Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Prove that Disability is
No Deterrent to a Livelihood of Dignity
Iris CF Gomes
The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists exhibition Art Beyond Belief was held at Bambolim Beach Resort on the 24th of February 2019 with 14 Indian differently abled artists who use either their mouth or feet in the process of painting. A live exhibition of the artists in action kept visitors visibly fascinated while the precision and the beauty of the artwork displayed enchanted all present. These artists are part of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, an organisation that promotes individuals who do not have the use of their hands owing to a birth defect, accident, or illness to earn a livelihood with dignity.
The Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) had its founding meeting in March 1957 and was the result of Arnulf Erich Stegmann, a German who had lost the use of his hands to polio, banding together artists with similar disabilities from 8 European countries. A skilled mouth artist himself, Stegmann established MFPA as a co-operative society that offered disabled artists a chance at financial security born out of their own hard work. The MFPA combined art and business to utilise the art to generate saleable items such as calendars, greeting cards, books, etc, upholding the motto ‘Self-help, not charity’.
There are three levels of membership in the Association. The first is the student member, who is assisted with a scholarship and art material to hone his or her skills. Student members can then be judged by a panel of assessors who decide whether they can be admitted to either of the next two levels ie associate member or full member. Becoming an associate or full member assures the artists of a monthly income even if their condition worsens and prevents them from continuing with their work.
Even today, the MFPA continues in this vein, having enlisted over 800 disabled artists from 74 countries the world over. India has 20 artists from Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala and operates from Mumbai, Maharashtra. The Association, which is operated and owned by the mouth and foot artists, sells the artists original paintings, prints (canvas and paper), coasters, cards, mugs, calendars, memo pads, pen stands, bookmarks, leather products, bags, T-shirts, etc.
The mouth and foot painting artists present at the exhibition were Swapna Augustine, M V Ravindran, Ganesh Kumar, Vyshak K, Sunita Trippanikkara, Jesfer Pulikkathody, Lata Landge, R K Narayanan, Manoj Bhingare, Bandenawaz Nadaf, Shrilekha Mandalapalli, Sheela Sharma, Mridul Ghosh, and Jilumol Mariet Thomas displaying remarkable artistic talent.
Frederika Menezes, an author who is noted for her books The Pepperns and Wars of the Mind, Stories in Rhyme, and Unforgotten, was the chief guest at the exhibition. An advocate for the differently abled, Frederika has cerebral palsy and has earned accolades for her literary work. Now dabbling in art herself, she addressed the artists encouraging them to live life to the fullest, ‘Life is a challenge, a beautiful challenge. My mind is blown away by your work. You guys are awesome.’
The artists were lauded by Mr Avelino De Sa, President of DRAG (Disabilities Rights Association of Goa), as he said, ‘I must say your paintings are really beautiful. I have been seeing your paintings for quite some time now because my mother is a patron, and we have been getting your greeting cards, desk calendars and paintings. But it is a different thing seeing you painting in action. It is a totally different thing. I congratulate all of you for having proved that we are no different than the others.’
Head of Development and Marketing Mr Bobby Thomas explained that the exhibition was the culmination of a three-day annual artists meet, after having spent two days in Goa engaged in a workshop and meditation and yoga. A different venue is chosen every year. Mr Thomas said, ‘We try to reach out to as many artists as possible through advertising and social media. Wherever we have our existing artists they are always in touch with similar kind of people and they put them in touch with us,’ explaining how the Association and the artists come together. He went on to say that the public response to the MFPA was very encouraging and had strengthened over the last few years thanks to social media marketing. There are plans in the offing to set up a shop with MFPA products in Goa.
One of the artists Mridul Ghosh was in active duty as part of the Indian Air Force. In 2010, an accident injured C5 and C6 vertebrae leaving him a paraplegic. He said, ‘The amount of satisfaction and joy I get in this field of painting makes me forget about my disability. It is a great state of tranquillity for me. It is the purpose of my life nowadays because I cannot do anything other than painting. I thank God for his blessing that I can paint.’
Shrilekha Mandalapalli, who has a rare congenital condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenital that has paralysed both her limbs, said, ‘I started painting 2007. I am inspired by nature and want to capture it through my painting. Painting is my passion. I have no words to explain how I feel when I paint because it makes me feel so happy.’
The exhibition was undoubtedly a success with enthralled visitors and prospective patrons joining in celebrating the triumph these mouth and foot artists have experienced through their tireless and talented artistic efforts.
*More photographs and videos below.
**More on MFPA in India at the following website: www.imfpa.org