Muscat: A young female artist, born with a congenital disorder (phocomelia) and adopted at the age of three by a single woman, paints inspirational poetry on canvas, motivating fellow Omanis with her fascinating life story.
Born without forearms Safiya Al Bahlani was adopted at the age of three by Sabah Al Bahlani. Now, 24 years later, the self-taught artist is much in demand for her art, graphic design, animations as well as a talk show that has inspired others.
“I actually talk about my own personal experiences as a child during my talk shows. I narrate my life story and what I have become now. I don’t necessarily advise people but they can probably learn within my own life story,” Safiya told Gulf News during an interview at her studio that she has created by taking over her mother’s garage.
Her mother is a big motivation and role model for the only female motivational speaker in Oman. “My mother helped channelise my energy, she is my motivation and role model, she is very tough as a woman, very independent,” she said adding that being exposed to her mother’s personality helped her learn.
“My mother, who is unmarried, adopted me when I was three,” she says.
Life has been tough for the talented artist but she has always taken everything in her stride and found a philosophical meaning to life. “When people used to find out in school that I was adopted, children would tease me but that didn’t affect me so much,” she says. “I learnt something from my aunt, who was also adopted, that I am the chosen one unlike those who had no choice and are born in a family,” she proudly says.
“It all depends on how you play with the words, or believe. I believe that I am unique and that makes me stronger,” she said with conviction.
Safiya’s mother adopted her from an Omani family when she was three and her adopted family never tried to hide that from her. “It was not like one day I woke up and I was told I am adopted.”
Her mother was always open about it and never tried to erase whatever memories her adopted daughter had from three years with her biological parents. “It was all out there for me,” said the cheerful artist, who is holding her biggest solo exhibition at Shangri-La’s Bar Al Jissa Resort and Spa on Wednesday.
She, however, said: “I must admit at an early age I didn’t want people to know [about adoption] because it was viewed negatively here.”
Now, Safiya feels that her adoption was a gift. “I am slowly trying to be open on the topic when people ask,” she explained.
The enterprising woman confesses that at some stage of her life the thought of finding her biological parents did cross her mind. “But I at the same time feel it is best not to know. If I really want to know anything about them, I want to know medical aspects, what is my medical history.”
There’s no malice in her. “I feel like whatever reasons they had [for giving her up for adoption], they are excused.”
She is proud of her adoptive mother and would like to emulate her. “I would like to follow in the footsteps of my mother and if I am stable in the next ten years, I would also like to adopt.”
She also gives full credit to her mother’s parents. “They brought her up so well, educated her and never segregated family even though Oman was way more conservative in those days. They were different,” she said.
The Al Bahlani family also made sure that Safiya studied with non special-needs children at a regular school despite being physically challenged.
“It definitely wasn’t easy while schooling,” she says, adding that children would tease her and some would call her names like “hot dog hands”, “chicken hands”.
“I would just walk away, it hurt but then I would express that through my paintings,” she said, stressing that painting became therapeutic for her.
“Art has always been a healing process for me, my work didn’t represent what I was feeling but drawing takes out emotions I went through at that time,” she pointed out.
Her natural talent was noticed when she was 14. “Everyone, including my mother, knew I could paint,” she said.
However, the depth of her talent was not even known to Safiya. “I was 14 and my mother was away for a long time and I drew a portrait based on her photograph to gift to her on Mother’s Day,” she said. That portrait opened up another avenue and everyone noticed her excellence with brush and pencil.
Since then she has been training and teaching herself. “In today’s world, mediums like YouTube provide enough resources for those who want to learn,” she says.
For various reason she couldn’t complete a graduation course in graphic design but she has no regrets. “You really don’t need a piece of paper to justify your talent.”
“If you are born in a certain way, to you it is normal, you adapt easily,” she says, adding that if she were given hands now she wouldn’t know how to work with fingers.