When art reflects our shared humanity

SUNGAI BULOH: At the National Leprosy Control Center, there is a section that reminds us of our shared humanity.

It is adorned by artwork done by the patients there, who immersed themselves in drawing and painting before and during the movement control order (MCO) brought on by Covid-19.

Not surprisingly, many of the drawings and paintings feature Covid-19 frontliners.

Mostly in their 80s, many of the artists have been permanently disabled by leprosy, but that did not stop them from tapping into their creative side.

A charitable NGO called the Care & Share Society said it had been encouraging residents from the Valley of Hope to paint even before the MCO so that their artwork could be displayed at the Valley of Hope Story Gallery located within the leprosy centre.

The Valley of Hope is a nickname for the Sungai Buloh settlement where former lepers live out the rest of their lives.

“As these old folks have no foundation in painting, and have not received any formal training, volunteers would go into the wards from time to time to help them,” it said in a statement.

The NGO added that it had also launched an online charity sale and published Covid-19 albums to stimulate the creativity of residents and to give them opportunities to contribute.

“Through painting and drawing, our artists gradually discover and feel that their inner being is still strong and complete, and the process of working hard to paint and successfully selling the paintings to contribute back to society has allowed them to regain their long-lost dignity. and confidence,” it said in a statement.

The National Leprosy Control Centre, Sungai Buloh Hospital, and Care & Share Society, with the support of Muzium Negara, organized a public exhibition of these artworks, which will run until today.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who visited the exhibition yesterday, launched a book titled A Blessing In Disguise which contains the artwork produced during the MCO by seven members of the Valley of Hope.

Tan Cheng Guan, 83, was excited that she could present Dr Noor Hisham with a portrait of him that she had sketched.

“I am very happy to see our idol, Dr Noor Hisham. I felt very excited to present him a portrait I drew. Tan Sri gave me a lot of encouragement and wished me good health.

“I will continue to learn drawing to show my gratitude to all the frontliners as they have really worked very hard for the people,” said Tan, who lived at Johor’s Tampoi leprosarium in her early teens, before serving as an assistant nurse in her adulthood in Sungai Buloh.

Meanwhile, an 82-year-old photographer and former teacher, Leon Chee Kuang, drew a painting of an exhausted frontliner.

“It is my way to illustrate my wish to share the workload of our frontliners.

“We salute their sacrifices and I sincerely thank them for their contribution,” said Leon, who was in secondary school when a blood test confirmed he had leprosy.

The diagnosis forced him to leave his hometown of Seremban to move into the Sungai Buloh Settlement for treatment, where he went on to take up photography and become an event photographer.

“The residents have put in a great effort to pay tribute to Hospital Sungai Buloh and Health Ministry staff,” said Dr Noor Hisham, who thanked those involved in making the event a success.

Established in 1930, the Sungai Buloh facility was among the largest leprosariums in the world at its peak.

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