Saturday, September 14, 2013
Beyond The Gift
(photo description: a brightly coloured painting of Clifton Suspension Bridge, in Bristol, during the Bristol Balloon Festival. Rupert the bear can be seen in the painting waving at brightly coloured hot air balloons.)
I read about artist Tazia Fawley having her painting "Rupert Flies Over the Clifton Suspension Bridge" accepted as a gift by Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge when it appeared as a post on Facebook. Apparently the royal couple asked for and accepted no gifts from the public on the occasion of the birth of their child. Instead, they asked for people, who were moved to mark the arrival of their son with a gift, to make donations to charity. An exception was made when they saw a photograph of this colourful painting, which was sent to them by an organisation that promotes artists with Down Syndrome. The wrote back, enthusiastically, and have accepted the gift.
The result? Newspaper articles and commentary around the web, not all positive, about this gift and the fact that it will hang in Prince George's room. Much of the discussion I have read has been around Tazia Fawley and the fact that she is a woman with Down Syndrome. The fact that she worked for six months, using her talent to make a gift for two people who she admires but did not know is getting little play and virtually no discussion.
I have been to England fairly often over the years and I remember the first time I heard the word, "Mong" used in a derogatory manner. I admit that I had no idea what it meant. It wasn't a word that I was familiar with, and though I could tell it was a "bad" word, a word meant to hurt, I was lost. When it was explained to me that it was derived from the word "mongoloid" an old and harsh word for people with Down Syndrome, I admitted to being shocked. What an ugly word. It was a word that, like the 'r' word, flies out of the mouths of people with worrying frequency.
In England, like elsewhere in the world, there has been an increase in hate crime targeting people with disabilities. The assumption is that people with disabilities have no value, contribute nothing valuable and therefore their pain and suffering at the hands of bullies and bigots is valueless. Who cares if someone hurts someone who doesn't matter? I have found myself, defending myself, my being, from those who assume that, because I have a disability, I am not a taxpayer, I am not employed or employable. I am always uncomfortable in defending myself with the truth, I am employed, I do pay taxes, I do contribute. I worry that others will tag on the end of what I say, "not like those others who suck up tax dollars."
And here, in the midst of all that, an artist with Down Syndrome, spends six months using her talents to make a gift for the baby of a Prince. The painting, 3 feet by 1 foot, is full of colour and full of detail, it's conception in perfect for a child's enjoyment. She wasn't setting out to smash stereotypes, she was setting out to make a gift. And it was the fact that she had a gift to give that I hope people notice.
I hope after all the hoopla dies down about the fact that she has Down Syndrome and that the Royals accepted the gift - a residual memory remains. That this woman, with a disability, had a gift, made a gift and freely gave a gift. That this woman who lives in a word where the word that once described who she was is now used as a taunt, where violence is increasing towards those, like her, with disabilities, quietly goes about the business of living.
Living a live of value.
Making things that are valuable.
I admire Ms Fawley for her talent. But I also admire her dedication to the gift she has been given. More selfishly, as a person with a disability, I admire the fact that she set out to do something kind, but managed to do something revolutionary at the same time.
THAT is an art.