Cover Story


April 11 - 17, 2018

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille


A graffiti and street art duo from the Dirty Hands Crew has teamed up with author Sarah Clarke to raise awareness about autism throughout this month.

The Art for Autism Awareness initiative is being hosted at the Bahrain Financial Harbour’s Harbour Gate, in association with the RIA Institute Bahrain.

On Sunday a huge mural will be unveiled, alongside a wonderful wooden jigsaw puzzle, as well as numerous activities to entertain and educate people on the challenging disorder.

“During this month, events are held the world over to raise awareness about the needs of autistic children and to bring about a more inclusive society which enables all children to thrive,” explained institute volunteer Sarah.

Sarah contacted the crew’s French graffiti artists Marylou Hebert, 25, and Arnaud Rothfuss, 32, to put their spray painting and brush stroke skills to the test to design and paint a five-metre-long and two-metre-high graffiti wall to help launch the campaign for people to admire and also contribute to.

Graffiti started off as a criminal anti-establishment movement in the late 1960s and was once criticised as wanton vandalism. However, times have changed. It’s now become a popular art form and its message making is now being used to inspire and motivate in a centre of the ‘establishment’ and the workplace of financial hotshots.

Marylou, an independent realism and abstract artist who used to be an interior designer and decorative artist, said: “I think this initiative is amazing. Art is about expression and it allows people to do so through the use of colour and composition. What we may not be able to say in words we can say through painting and that is what graffiti and street art is about, stating a message.”

Marylou’s friend and fellow crew member, Mustafa Halwachi, 41, who designs furniture and is a calligrapher and artist, added: “Street art has cultural importance and through our Crew we wish to promote beauty through colours and different styles to inspire and showcase harmony.

“Our aim is to make people smile through our art and street art is another form of dialogue between the artist and the public. People are finally beginning to appreciate this art form and see that it’s not vandalism but a way to transform public places into beautiful works of art.”

Arnaud says he is ‘honoured’ to be a part of such a ‘noble cause’ and recalls how friends used to risk arrest for their graffiti art.

The wall features the face of Sarah’s rescue dog Baloo, the star of two books, who brings laughter and joy to autistic children and those with communication challenges at RIA.

The mural also boasts a giant ribbon symbolising the disorder and the word Inclusion with two hands holding pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The mural also includes the Bahrain Financial Harbour towers and puzzle pieces which represent autism.

The puzzle piece symbol is said to reflect the mystery and complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Also, since every puzzle piece is different in some way, a puzzle piece accurately represents the diversity of the individuals affected by it.

Marylou said: “We left some puzzle pieces bare to allow children and other artists to put their own imprints on the wall with us. This is a fun event and we simply want people of different artistic backgrounds to enjoy it. You don’t have to be an artist to take part.

“It’s all for a good cause.”

Aside from the Dirty Hands Crew creating their wall, Erich Bruckner, a carpenter by trade and a quality management consultant, has constructed a giant wooden jigsaw of the autism ribbon for the event.

Sarah said: “We’ll be painting and assembling a giant wooden jigsaw of the colourful autism ribbon. It was designed to represent the complexity of autism spectrum disorders. Erich has done a fantastic job, spending hours of his spare time carefully fabricating each piece. 

“Anyone, young and old, parents, children, teachers, members of the public, business leaders, government figures can come along and help us to create the puzzle.  When it’s finished it’ll be varnished to protect the colours and used to help RIA students with their learning.”

ASD is a developmental disorder characterised by troubles with social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. It affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organise.

There are varying degrees of this disorder including difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours. It is believed there are around 2,000 known cases in Bahrain and, globally, autism is estimated to affect 24.8 million people as of 2015.

The concept for the event came about when Sarah discovered Othmann Al Attar’s artistic talent. He is the 22-year-old son of Christine Gordon and Dr Emad Al Attar, RIA’s co-founders.

Sarah, 53, managing director at DSC Solutions, is working towards establishing a fully certified Educational Support Dog Programme in Bahrain. She said: “Othmann was the reason Christine and Emad founded RIA as he was thrown out of kindergarten because he was autistic and had great difficulty communicating.

“Christine has always known he loved to draw and paint, but we have only just realised he has a unique gift. So I thought let’s show the world what Othmann can do!

“It seemed logical to hold a series of events during April at Harbour Gate – where better to show case the talent of an autistic adult in a space frequented by government and business leaders?

 “We’ll be giving Othmann a blank canvas to produce his interpretation of Harbour Towers and Harbour Gate. It will be fascinating to watch him at work and begin to understand how he views these marvellous buildings.”

Berger Paints Arabia has supplied the paint for the event. During the five-day campaign there will be a toddler table for children to make their own jigsaw pieces on cards and if people don’t want to paint the jigsaw or the graffiti wall, they can create their own Autism Awareness artwork on a canvas. 

Small school groups (maximum 10) can register to take part in the jigsaw and graffiti wall by calling RIA 17742871. 

Sarah added: “This event is free and we hope it will be a lot of fun! It has a serious side but the main message is that all children are different and all deserve to be fully included in every aspect of daily life.”

The event will run daily until April 19 from 9.30am to 11.30am and Othmann will be showcasing his talents during the opening.

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