A Vision Unlimited
Iris C F Gomes
Stacy Rodrigues has come a long way in her life and has truly been through a trial by fire. She suffers from a congenital disease called heredomacular degeneration that leads to gradual bilateral decrease in vision starting in early childhood or the teenage years. Stacy realised that something was different about herself much before her parents did. But her attempts to convey this awareness to the people around her were met with scepticism. Teachers would berate her for not putting in an optimal performance. She was considered lazy and received physical punishment on occasion.
Reading became arduous as it would take up to ten minutes to recognise each letter and often there would be confusion with letters that were similar like ‘a’ and ‘o’. Stacy’s other senses were strengthened while she focused on her auditory sense to deal with her educational hurdles. This became her best shot at learning and she managed to just barely pass her examinations in school.
Her parents became convinced of her condition only after an accident took her to an ophthalmologist. When she was in the sixth standard her left eye was injured by the impact of a season ball. Dr. Moraes, her ophthalmologist discovered white patches caused by the heredomacular degeneration in her right eye. She was amazed at Stacy's ability to find her way about despite her failing eyesight. Dr. Moraes informed her parents that the accident had worsened her condition. The family was already facing a crisis at this time. Stacy’s father had lost his job and her mother, Agnes, had begun to work in Bahrain, leaving her family behind.
Some respite came in the form of an ayurvedic treatment called tarpan. It made it possible for her to at least count her fingers. Another positive change was her entry into Carmel Higher Secondary School. Here friends helped her catch up by completing her notes for her. Thanks to her mother and sister reading out the portion for her examinations she was able to finish school with a first class.
Now the question of selecting a career, which she could manage with her diminished vision, began to weigh on Stacy’s mind. She was fighting the label of being ‘a camera with a bad film’, as she was dubbed by her doctors. She enrolled at the Goa College of Music at Altinho, Panaji. But she met with disappointment as the students as well as the administration were very callous in their attitude towards her. They refused to believe she had a disability because of the way she conducted herself and derided her. She joined a Radio Management course at the Academy of Broadcasting. But that idea was also cast aside as she was not comfortable performing as a RJ. Job hunting became a burdensome task due to the constant rejection. Her impairment had become a gargantuan stumbling block.
Stacy became dejected and to add to her troubles her mother, influenced by the neighbours’ vilification of Stacy’s condition, began to look on her as a cursed being. Depression encompassed Stacy but her brother managed to redeem the situation by encouraging her to participate in some physical activity.
Donovan, her gym instructor, walked into her life as a beacon of hope. He is the reason she came out with her book of poems titled Reflections. He motivated her to paint so that she would begin to understand colours.
This self-taught artist has progressed rapidly showing immense artistic talent. She had her first exhibition at Carpe Diem, Majorda, in 2013. It was a collection of landscapes entitled Into the Light. She plans to put up an exhibition in Mumbai by December of this year. She says, ‘I want to reach out to more people and Bombay [Mumbai] is the best place.’ She has plans to set up a website that will have her paintings on display but it is work in progress under the direction of a friend. Stacy has finished nearly fifty paintings and wants to release volume two of Reflections, consisting of twenty poems. The paintings are abstract this time. She has evolved from landscapes to abstract art because it suits her personality better. ‘The theme of this exhibition is Joy of Colours. I’m experimenting with different colours. Landscapes can be repetitive. I didn't want to be tied down by landscapes. I’m enjoying abstract art though it has been a learning process,’ Stacy confides.
An incident at Delhi airport has pushed her to begin using the white cane, to establish the fact that she is visually impaired. At the airport she was asked to prove her visually impaired status when she asked for assistance. She laments the lack of empathy towards people like herself. In the USA, the government has made provision for the upliftment of the differently abled and given them a platform to showcase their prowess. In India, they are pictured as limited. ‘I want to show that the disabled can do much more!’ she says.
Stacy shares an experience that reveals the ignorance and closed mind-set of so called educated individuals. A lawyer she was travelling with told her it was karma that had caused her impairment. Stacy shrugged it off and told the man she was not disheartened by her condition and had achieved much through it. The man was so impressed by the end of the journey that he wanted to get to know her better.
When she visited the Art and Culture Department of Goa to ask for an art gallery to put up her exhibition, they told her that she would be allowed permission for eight days but only if she got another three or four artists to exhibit with her. This proposal defeated Stacy’s purpose of focusing on art by a visually impaired person. But when she moved to Mumbai the PR agency there was very discerning, appreciating her art for its worth and treating her as they would a normal person. They are excited to work with her and are planning a campaign to draw in a big and influential crowd to view her paintings. They see her disability as her strength, an attitude held by Stacy too. She says, ‘I want to bring other visually impaired, talented people into the light,’ hoping to be a pioneer of sorts.
Evidently, it is her longstanding faith in God and the ability he has graced her with which gives her the wings she needs to soar above her many trials. ‘I have confidence people will one day look up to me,’ she says cheerfully.
The artist's interpretation of her painting:
THE TREE OF PEACE
A dream of every individual which can be fulfilled or brought into existence with our own effort.