CAIRO: Around 30 artists with hearing disabilities participated with drawings, photographs and hand-made accessories at a Wednesday exhibition at the Cairo Opera House.
It is the first time for the annual fair to be held at the Opera as to celebrate “Arab Deaf Week,” from April 13-20, in coordination between the National Cultural Center at the Opera House and the Egyptian Foundation for the Rights of the Deaf and Sign Language Interpreters.
The fair is supervised by Hanan el-Nahrawy, a hearing impaired artist, who has participated in many exhibitions in the United States, Turkey, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates over the past years.
El-Nahrawy said she has worked to gather talented hard-of-hearing people to express their skill publicly, aiming to send a message “to change the way the deaf are perceived in the country,” she told The Cairo Post through an interpreter.
The 53-yr old artist lost her hearing when she was a child as a result of a high fever. She said she liked to draw since the age of 8 years old, and when she grew up, she held exhibitions of her work.
Her favorite moment is when she cuts the ribbon to open each exhibit, she said; “I feel ecstatic as it is not usual to see deaf people doing so.”
“We have a lot of talented deaf artists who need to be given the chance to succeed…we are marginalized, and may be through art we can penetrate the world,” she added.
El-Nahrawy explained that she does not want to be alone in challenging societal conceptions, that’s why she looks for other distinctively talented people with hearing disabilities in different governorates, and promote their work in the media.
“Whenever I see deaf people who like to draw, I try to help them to strengthen their talent, so they do not feel discriminated against.”
Amany Mostafa, 24, is one of the photographers who participated in Wednesday’s exhibition. She likes to be called a hearing impaired person, but not “mute.”
Although Mostafa can speak and pronounce words, she says she prefers to use sign language, and wears hearing aids that relay high pitched sounds.
Mostafa has taken several photography courses to strengthen her talent besides her basic work at a telecommunication company, serving hard-of-hearing customers. Through an interpreter, Mostafa explained to The Cairo Post that taking photos outdoors does not pose a challenge for her, but the “real challenge” was when she neared protests. She said that she once lost a friend who was fatally shot in the street, at the time of security lapse in Egypt few years ago, when he existed at a restricted zone, and did not hear people trying to warn him.
Although she has participated in several exhibitions; for deaf and mixed ones, Mostafa considers Wednesday’s fair at the Opera House as a “great achievement.”
“[Mostafa] is very active and bold; she has previously launched small projects of home-made food and hand-made accessories,” Safaa, Mostafa’s mother, told The Cairo post.
“When they were kids, [Mostafa] and her brother Hossam were disrupted by people staring at them, and used to hide their ears with their hands, but then, they felt more comfortable when they engaged with the deaf community.”
Safaa does not know sign language, and speaks normally to her children who have been through speech therapy when they were young, adding in laughter “I feel lost when they talk to each other in sign language.”
A number of children, who had cochlear implants, also participated in the exhibition with their drawings. They were escorted with the founder of the Esmaany (Hear Me) Academy for Children Eman Shawer, who is a verbal therapist and a sign language trainer and interpreter.
“In the academy, I try to teach the children to engage with society through art, and to speak rather than use sign language, so they can understand people and not rely on interpreters,” Shawer told The Cairo Post.
There are no precise statistics of the number of deaf people in Egypt; however Shawer estimated them at more than 3 million.