SINGAPORE: “This is my wish come true,” said Katy Lee. Her work of art will be featured on this year's National Day goodie bags.
The bags are typically distributed to people who attend the National Day Parade. This year, each Singaporean and permanent resident household will be able to collect the bags, which have been dubbed the Singapore Together Pack.
Ms Lee's artwork is one of 10 done by people with disabilities.
The 70-year-old is among two artists representing the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) in this project.
In 1995, Ms Lee underwent an operation to remove a tumour from an optic nerve. The tumour was benign, but it caused her to lose sight in her right eye, and resulted in tunnel vision in her left.
From being able to drive and run her own errands, Ms Lee, then a co-owner of a flower shop, had to leave the business and rely on others to get around. She could not even pour a glass of water on her own, she said.
“It was very frustrating. I was angry with myself,” she recalled. The feeling of being helpless and having to learn how to navigate her surroundings was overwhelming.
Ms Lee has come a long way since then.
In designing the piece for this year’s National Day celebration, with the theme “Singapore, My Home”, she chose collage as her medium, and the colours blue, green and red.
Blue exudes a feeling of being home and being well taken care of, Ms Lee explained. “Every day, you can look up and see blue skies. Not every country has that,” she said.
Green symbolises life and growth as she has seen how Singapore’s landscape has transformed over the decades, while red represents the vibrancy she senses in the country.
“I hope Singaporeans feel the same (when they see my work),” Ms Lee said.
Ms Lee said she was “over the moon” when she was told that her work had been selected.
“Every year, I see the fun pack designs and I always hoped they would give us a chance,” she said.
Ms Lee has been teaching art classes at SAVH for the past 24 years.
It all started when her braille teacher Leow Chee Tsai got to know about her background as a florist, and asked if she wanted to teach an art programme at SAVH producing handicraft items.
Although she was hesitant at first, Ms Lee agreed, taking up Mr Leow’s challenge of creating something out of a bundle of old stamps.
She studied what gifts shops were doing and came up with plans to make things like bookmarks out of the stamps.
“A eureka moment,” she said of the first time she saw a student present the finished product. “It built my confidence when you realise you are able to pass on your skills.”
On being given the opportunity to be involved in this year’s National Day celebrations, Ms Lee said: “It means a lot to these people (with disabilities) … It's a way of telling this group of people that (society has) not forgotten you.”
She added: “To you, it (may) just (be) an artwork. But to that person, it means a lot to her or him because he's able to do something and contribute it in this way.
“They are actually doing it with their hands, they are doing it with their heart, they are expressing their dreams, what their hopes (are), into something they can feel and people can see it."
Another artist whose work will be featured is 52-year-old Minah Mohd, who was born with cerebral palsy.
Drawing inspiration from Singapore’s nickname as the Little Red Dot, Ms Minah’s artwork features a red dot surrounded by famous landmarks like the merlion and Changi Airport.
This illustrates how she has seen the country make its name on the global stage, said Mr Simon Low, manager of Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore’s goodwill, rehabilitation and occupational workshop. He spoke on Ms Minah’s behalf as her disability makes it difficult for her to communicate.
"As her manager at her workplace ... it is great form of recognition as far as our trainees are concerned,” Mr Low said.
"As a friend, I am happy for her," he added. "It is a personal achievement that she can be proud of and remembered.”
This has already been a special year for Ms Minah. In January, President Halimah Yacob bought her artwork at a gift market at the Istana open house during Chinese New Year.
It is not the first time that the NDP team has highlighted people with special needs. In 2018, 38 youths from special education schools had their artwork printed on tote bags for National Day.
This year, special needs adults were roped in.
SG Enable reached out to social service agencies that had art programmes, and held a creative workshop in December with disability art expert Esther Joosa to help the participants get ideas and tips for their project.
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This also gave the social service sector the opportunity to “highlight that disability is not just a child problem but it is a societal problem that we need to be mindful of”, said Mr Adam Ho, head of marketing communications at SG Enable.
“A lot of us will encounter disabilities in our lifetime,” he said.
“Accessibility and inclusivity should be personal to all of us, because we know somebody who meets it, and we will be in that category one day.”
Mr Ho said participants were “very enthusiastic and happy to be part of this” project, adding that many had asked about what they could and could not draw when he visited the art sessions.
"Not many persons with disabilities have such opportunities,” added the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Mr Low. “It is an encouragement to achieve what they may think impossible as a disabled person."