In 2016, Ajay Jayaprakash was in a motorcycle accident that forced his right leg to be amputated. The Mahe-based artist and photographer had come home from Bengaluru to celebrate Onam and was out with his father on his new bike.
A speeding lorry being driven by a man without a licence crashed into his bike, and his right leg took the full impact of the incident. With hospitals closed for the festival, he had to be rushed to Mangalore, but it was already too late to save his leg.
Despite this adversity, Ajay has continued to follow his passion for art and photography and is now an aspiring para cyclist.
Ajay is among hundreds of artists with disabilities in India. According to Not Just Art, 15 percent of the world’s population (one out of every seven people) is living with a disability. In India, there are believed to be 40-80 million living with disabilities. The 2011 Indian census reports 2.21 percent of Indians live with some form of disability; while other estimates (World Bank) say that number is closer to 8 percent.
Access to a sustainable livelihood is one of the major challenges faced by people living with disabilities. The artist community is no exception. There are barriers separating artists with disabilities such as finding people to represent them or being able to communicate with potential buyers. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has only widened this gap.
Another challenge they face is their work being classified based on the fact they have a disability rather than the merit of the artwork itself. While some artists choose to share a message on their journey of living with a disability, others portray more intersectional subjects.
Enter platforms like Atypical Advantage, which serve as spaces where these artists can showcase their work and interact with buyers, who can also commission their work to suit their requirements.
“Art lovers can choose from over 270 artworks made by 60 artists with disabilities. There are different themes to choose from and you can commission an artist for custom orders on this unique platform. This helps raise awareness about the skills of people with disabilities and also helps them in generating livelihood,” says Vineet Saraiwala, who has built Atypical Advantage – India’s first-ever talent platform exclusively for PwDs.
He adds that each of the artists listed on the platform has a phenomenal story to share and the talent to turn any ordinary canvas into magic.
For artists like Ajay, a platform like this has been a great boon. “I had not received a single order during COVID-19, but since joining the platform, my upside-down portraits are selling like hotcakes”, he says.
Karishma Kannan, an artist with Down Syndrome, has also seen a lot of interest in her work, and one of her paintings was recently bought by a collector in the United States. Karishma donates all the money she earns from the sale of her paintings to charities that support children with and without disabilities.
There is a growing number of platforms that are trying to promote works of artists with disabilities. Not Just Art is another such platform.
A Youth4Jobs initiative, the platform has been serving artists with disabilities by organising gallery showings, art therapy camps, and workshops for school children and serving as a platform for artists to showcase and sell their work.
In October 2020, “The Art Sanctuary”, a trust organised a special 3-D online exhibition of art by children in the age group of 16-18 years, who have intellectual disabilities like autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, hyperactive, and attention deficit disorder, and Fragile X syndrome.