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The latest exhibition by Mawaheb, titled “Synergy”, features a unique collaboration between artists with special needs and well-known artists from around the world. Mawaheb, which is a studio for adults with special needs, invited established artists to donate unfinished artworks. These were then completed by Mawaheb artists, resulting in a beautiful synergy of different artistic styles and ideas. The presence of the colour red in every painting is the common thread that runs through the exhibition.

Mawaheb was established in 2010 by Wemmy de Maaker, a special needs education expert from the Netherlands, with the aim of using art as a medium for teaching life skills to adults with special needs. “Synergy is a combination of different elements that produces an effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements. And that is what has happened here. We approached renowned artists and their response was overwhelming. They handed over their paintings to us unconditionally, and when our Mawaheb artists completed them, the result was magical,” De Maaker says.

The Mawaheb artists worked under the guidance of Mawaheb’s art teachers Gulshan Kavarana and Wassila Rezaigula and with the support of Mawaheb’s dedicated team of volunteers. For them it was an exciting experience to collaborate with artists whose work they admire. “A few months ago we visited an exhibition by Emirati artist Fatma Lootah, and I just loved her work. So I was thrilled when she invited me to paint with her in her studio. It was such an amazing experience. She put on music and I danced while I was painting, and my paints danced over the canvas,” Hussain Sajwani says.

Adrian DSouza identified strongly with a painting by Indian artist Sunil Padwal. “I felt that the face in his painting was my own and the buildings he had depicted reminded me of the hotel owned by my family. Hence I decided to highlight the buildings with red,” he says.

Zaid Jaffar chose to work on a painting by British artist Susan Thomson, who is well known for her botanical drawings and watercolours. “I liked her vibrant painting of a ‘bird of paradise’ flower. I was quite scared to paint on it as I thought I might spoil Susan’s flower. But the finished work looks quite cool and I am proud of it,” he says.

For Abdullah Lutfi, working on Dubai-based artist Patricia Al Fakhri’s painting of a desert was quite a departure from his usual bold black drawings, but he enjoyed the challenge. He also joined Leila Murgian in completing a painting by Dubai-based artist Tina Ahmad. “We loved the vivid colours and the bold graphic look of her painting. After much deliberation we decided that a camel caravan would go well with the palm tree in the painting. I used a new technique that I learnt from artist Mike Arnold, which I have named ‘dottism’,” Lutfi says. “I was feeling low that morning, but working on the painting lifted my mood,” Murgian adds.

De Maaker is happy with the development of the artists. “In the last three years our artists have grown tremendously in talent and confidence, and they have successfully exhibited their work at leading galleries in Dubai and the Netherlands. Mawaheb is the Arabic word for ‘talent’, and through our exhibitions and events we are showing the community that people with special needs have incredible talent. Besides showcasing the creativity of our artists, this exhibition is also a testament to the generosity of the many artists and volunteers who supported this initiative,” De Maaker says.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.

“Synergy” will run at Art Couture in the Al Badia Golf Club, InterContinental, Dubai Festival City, until June 7.


The collaborators

Artists who donated their unfinished works for the show include Fatma Lootah, Sunil Padwal, Patricia Al Fakhri, Trevor Waugh, Owais Hussain, Tina Ahmad, Susan Thomson, Darlas Hunter, Corine Pagny, Shefali Ranthe, Bibi van Girken, Julie Dalloz, Beena Samuel, Khalil Abdul Wahid, Hassan Damluji, Suqrat Bin Bisher, Khulood Alawadi, Tania Hens, Ayham Hammad, Desiree Rader, Viji Ram, Aarti Bhal, Elsa van der Merwe, Michael Arnold, Grainne Geraghty, Lianne Welford, Magdalena Houston, Terry Onanian, Marisa Petersen, Sue Granter and Jenai Kavarana. And the Mawaheb artists who added their own touch to the canvases include Abdullah Lutfi, Adrian DSouza, Alex Loveday, Ali Al Salhi, Anjali Kakkar, Angelina Lawless, Anju Gupta, Faran, Farzeen Maswala, Gregory Schmarr, Hussain Sajwani, Jack Stewart, Keira Thorson, Leila Murgian, Sarah Sharmian, Sharan Anil, Victor Sitali and Zaid Jaffar.