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Art for Good: 9 Notable Differently-Abled Artists In Malaysia 

Some were born with it, some acquired disabilities after being through a tragic experience. 

As of 2017, the Department of Statistics Malaysia stated that there are a total of 453,258 registered People with Disabilities (PwDs). Amongst those numbers, 35.2% are physically impaired, 8.9% are visually impaired, 7.6% are hearing impaired and 0.5% of the total are speech impaired[1].

The situation has not been easy, and the PwDs manoeuvred the pandemic with more challenges. 

Source: BFM Malaysia

Dr Ahmad Shamsuri Muhamad, chairman of the Committee on Employment and Economic Empowerment of the National Council for Blind Malaysia (NCBM), states that the PwD communities lack access to equal employment compared to ordinary citizens. As of 2020, only a total number of 0.29% (3,686)  of PwD were employed in the civil service sector[2]

With such bleak numbers, it is only logical for those who are less unfortunate to look for alternative ways to earn an income. Hence many turn to their innate abilities to be creative. After all, art is a universal experience. Let’s nine differently-abled artists in Malaysia using their innate abilities in performance arts and visual arts. 

#1: Caliph Buskers, Blind Musicians Gracing Malaysia’s Radio Waves

Founded in 2014, Caliph Buskers is a Malaysian group artist that consists of five talented individuals. The members consist of Zaki Ismail, Fendy Abdullah, Nirwan Zainalabidin, Khairul Azmi Saat and Nadira Rubiana with Chiko as its past members. 

Source: Harian Metro

Here’s what is notable about Caliph Buskers, all of them are visually impaired. 

The group has won various music awards and even produced “Buta” in 2017 featuring Malaysia’s local singer, Faizal Tahir.

Those who don’t understand will assume that busking is the equivalent of begging. That’s why when we sing, people give us money. – Azmi Saat, Caliph Buskers lead vocalist[3]

The pandemic, however, hasn’t left them unscathed like many other performing acts, Caliph Buskers’ drummer, Fendy Abdullah struggled to survive with his son. But, the members of the public banded together to assist the drummer. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, Caliph Buskers received lesser performance offers. Even open singing activities are not allowed. – Azmi Saat, Caliph Buskers lead vocalist [4]

Support them by streaming their music through Youtube and Spotify!

#2: Louis Gan, Artist Behind Famous Penang Street Arts

Walking down the alleys of Georgetown, the walls are decorated with murals of local sights and scenes. Three murals decorating the streets; “Brother and Sister on a Swing”, “Children Playing Basketball” and “Nostalgic Meal Order” was painted by a self-taught deaf-mute artist, Louis Gan[5].  

Louis learnt to draw through watching videos online and utilises mediums such as watercolour and acrylic. 

He also won as a runner-up at the 2003 Malaysia-Japanese Art Competition and Exhibition which further boosted his confidence in pursuing art as a career.

#3: Chung Hong Tsin, Continue Dancing Despite Lifelong Injury

After losing his ability to walk due to a spinal cord injury caused by a traffic accident in 1991, the dancer from Sibu relied on a wheelchair to move. But, his condition did not dampen his passion for dancing. Chung Hong Tsin travelled to West Malaysia at 20 to pursue his dreams of becoming a dancer. 

Source: dodream.my

He broke into the scene in 2004 as he was crowned champion in the Southeast Asian Wheelchair
Modern Dance Open Championship in Hong Kong[6]. His path to fame continued as he joined Dua Space Dance Theatre in 2009, becoming the very first wheelchair sign-up as a professional dancer.

In 2011, he established ‘Passion Move’, providing professional wheelchair dance performance services. He also delivers instructional sports videos and dance classes for physically disabled individuals. 

#4: Lim Anuar, Using Batik Arts As An Intermediary

Lim Anuar was born deaf, but his fastidious mother found the Federation School for Deaf and he was immediately sent for training at the age of 3. His journey into the art scene started with his part-time work with a local batik studio; Batik Sayang[7].

That was the hallmark of his art journey, and throughout the years, he gained more experience in designing, drawing, painting and conceptual design. 

Anuar believes that learning is a never-ending process, which is why he continues to draw, paint, read, write and travel to gain inspiration. He states that his personal indulgence in the world of art as well galleries, museums and exhibition visits are what kept him growing as an artist.

The joy of painting is when you do it for nothing else other than your own satisfaction and to capture something you personally see as inspiring, beautiful and God’s creation. – Anuar Lim, a deaf artist[8]

But more than anything, being part of the PwD community is also a matter of finding those who believed in him and his talent. 

Yes, I was unfortunate because I was born deaf but life is fair to me as I am fortunate enough to meet many generous and helpful people. He urges the public to see the abilities and potentials of disabled people. Please give us a chance to have a breakthrough in our lives because giving an opportunity to a deaf person is like allowing us to be heard. – Anuar Lim, a deaf artist[7]

#5: Alfred Ho, Malaysia’s Stevie Wonder

You may remember him from the second season of Asia Got Talent in 2017, or during his heyday as a professional singer. Alfred Ho, who became visually impaired when he was three after contracting measles, is a renowned singer residing in Kuchai Lama. However, due to the fierce competition in the industry, Alfred turned to busking to earn a living. 

Alfred tried various social media such as Tiktok, and Youtube to appeal to the young generation, however, his knowledge in running social media accounts remains limited. 

Source: The Vibes

I’m trying to find someone who can help me because we’re not so good with computers. I wanted to do live shows on Zoom and YouTube but we don’t know how to and we are willing to pay a small amount if someone can help us. – Alfred Ho, veteran  blind singer[9]

However, his friend would then introduce him to a karaoke application called “WeSing” to continue what he did best – singing.

As a musician, I was given a back seat. We weren’t even helped in any way. We just spent on what’s needed and somehow managed to pull through. – Alfred Ho, veteran  blind singer[9]

To those who are interested in offering tech or financial assistance to Ho and his wife, you may email them through their email.

#6: Low Mee Li, Leading A Wheelchair-Bound Dance Troupe

Similar to Chung Hong Tsin, Low Mee Li is a wheelchair-bound dancer that has years of experience. Low, leads a dance troupe; the Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled.

Despite being passionate about dance, many dancers in Malaysia come to realise that dance will always be an amateur activity, resulting in Low being an accountant for the Beautiful Gate.

 Sometimes I feel like giving up. It is lonely to be the group leader, sometimes the only one who has the passion. But I have a responsibility as a leader to continue. – Low Mee Li, dancer at the Beautiful Gate Foundation[10]

The wheelchair dancer community is small and everyone knows everyone. However, it is harder for the community to align to the same genre preferences. Even before the pandemic, their progress of three gigs per month turned none. 

Get more information about Beautiful Gate Foundation.

#7: Maryam Khairul Anuar, A Budding Artist With A Generous Heart

Imagine raising RM80,000 for charity at just the young age of ten. That is a feat that not many can perform, but Maryam Khairul Anuar did just that. 

Maryam is a ten-year-old artist who has Down Syndrome. She sold a total amount of 95 pieces of artwork through her fundraising campaign, Maryam Saves A Heart (MSAH) to aid children that require surgery at Kuala Lumpur’s Institut Jantung Negara (IJN).

Source: Mstar

Maryam loves being celebrated and according to her mother Sharifah Sarah, Maryam looks forward to being photographed with the paintings.  Sarah hopes to hold an art exhibition for Maryam to not just display her art but to raise awareness that having a disability is not a limitation for doing good. 

It is important for Maryam to know she is contributing to society and making a difference despite her limitations. We also want buyers of Maryam’s artwork to feel they are making a difference for a greater purpose. – Sharifah Sarah,  Maryam’s mother[11]

Maryam recently completed a successful art exhibition and sales in Gamuda Mall Bukit Bintang recording a grand total of RM 64,765.

#8: Kirtanraw Subramaniam, Found Power Through His Superhero Paintings

Born in Kedah, Kirtanraw Subramaniam had to put a halt to further education due to his autism. But, from a young age, he had exhibited an affinity for arts which his parents had only encouraged. 

We encouraged him to do whatever he wanted with his gift in art and he began with sketches in pencil with a penchant for cartoon characters like Power Rangers. – Subramaniam Bandiloo, Kirtanraw’s father[12]

Source: Ability Today

When his father lost his job in 2018, Kirtanraw and his mother travelled to Kuala Lumpur to exhibit his artworks to generate an income. But more than anything, with his talent honed, his parents are grateful that Kirtanraw’s future is in safe hands. 

While art is a form of therapy for children with autism, it enables them to earn a living too. In the span of 10 years, Kirtanraw has managed to sell about 300 pieces of his artwork and the money is kept in his savings account. Hopefully, the funds can be used to assist him when my wife and I are no longer around. – Subramaniam Bandiloo, Kirtanraw’s father[13]

#9: Jamaliah Mohd Yasin, Photographing With Her New Lens

Jamaliah was diagnosed with glaucoma more than thirty years ago. The disease caused her vision to deteriorate and at the age of 61, she was declared blind[14].

With spare time at home, Jamaliah attended life skills classes at the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) Training Centre in Ipoh. She re-learned habits and activities such as walking. One of the programmes she participated in involved a series of classes on “Sensory Photography” unlocked her hidden talent in photography[14]

You would wonder how the visually impaired are able to capture amazing shots – they are actually guided by their intact senses such as hearing, smell, touch and taste. In Jamaliah’s case, the photos were taken based on the description of another person when she is visiting a place. The pictures were captured solely on Jamaliah’s intuition[15].

Jamaliah’s work has been showcased in different exhibitions, and she continues to capture images in her spare time whilst enjoying her retirement.

Written by: Ryshaune Lee and Sabrina Firdaus Aloysius, edited by Wiki Impact Team

Explore our sources:

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2018). Social Statistics Bulletin Malaysia. Link 
  2. The Malaysian Reserve. (2021). People with disabilities and jobs during a pandemic. Link 
  3.  Zayan. (2019).”Bila kita nak buat sesuatu yang kita suka tapi terbatas sebab kita tak nampak”. Link
  4. N.Nordin. (2021). ‘Terima kasih dah bantu Fendy’ – Azmi Caliph Buskers. Harian Metro. Link 
  5. Penang Traveltips. (n.d.). The Mural Art of Louis Gan. Link 
  6. dodream. (2013). CHUNG HONG TSIN 钟丰琎, WORLD WHEELCHAIR DANCE CHAMPION 国际轮椅舞冠军.Link
  7. Ibatik. (n.d.). Lim Anuar. Link 
  8. Lim, A. (2012). My Stories. Link
  9. M.Chalil. (2022). Tenacious blind Malaysian singer Alfred Ho wants to go online, needs help with technology. Malay Mail. Link 
  10. B.Hijjas. (2017). Beautiful Gate Performing Arts Troupe, Malaysia. Arts And Equator. Link
  11. MStar. (2021). Budak Down Syndrome dikurnia bakat melukis luar biasa, mampu kutip RM80,000 bantu kanak-kanak pelarian sakit jantung. Link
  12. P.Toh. (2014). Autistic youngster shows off his artworks. New Straits Times. Link
  13. S.Chandran. (2020). Showcasing their creativity. The Star. Link
  14. L.Kwan. (2018). The Inspiring Story of a Blind M’sian Who Takes Stunning Photos Using Only a Smartphone. The World Of Buzz. Link 
  15. A.Anuar. (2020). When a picture tells a million stories…in the dark. The Malaysian Reserve. Link
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