Yesterday, we attended the opening of an art exhibit in downtown Kingston. The artist, Astro Saulter, is part of a talented family of Jamaicans, including Storm Saulter, who produced the movie Better Mus Come. Astro, 34, has cerebral palsy and uses a computer and his head to create digital line drawings. (Here’s a story about Astro.) Thirty-five pieces were shown yesterday at the open and airy gallery. Astro incorporates bold colours and stark, graphic images. I’m not an art expert, but I enjoyed the unique and inspired nature of the pieces. The dedication and love of art and self-expression are also clear in Astro’s works. According to Astro’s Facebook page, it can take one month to create a piece, which he does by using a computer program called EZ-Keys. This program allows Astro to use a headswitch on the back of his wheelchair to create the drawings.
Astro is one of eight children, and was sent to a rehabilitative school in New Hampshire, US, where he learned to communicate via Morse code, which he inputs into a computer by moving his head. Astro completed high school in Miami and returned to Jamaica at age 20. He continues to create works of art and aims to inspire others. From his Facebook page: “…no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what background you have, or even if you have a disability – if you have a dream or a vision of something that you really want to do in life you must face it and challenge that goal head on. Do not let anything stand in your way, or anyone try to stop you or tell you cannot do it.”
The event saw the launch of another of Astro’s creations- a film, which was looping during the exhibit. Spotted at the event was Chris Blackwell of Island Records and Bob Marley fame, as he is a supporter and sponsor of Astro’s. NoMaddz performed, a beloved Jamaican reggae band.
It is never easy to go through life with a disability, and Jamaica appears to be an especially challenging place to live. Stereotypes, fear and marginalization prevail. Nowhere accommodates people who use a wheelchair. It is difficult enough for able-bodied people to get around the streets, I can’t imagine what it is like with a wheelchair or other aids. But events like this help to raise awareness and to show people that a disability need not impede one’s goals or dreams. It also illustrates the irrational fears and prejudices towards people with disabilities. It seems as though the message is starting to get out. Digicel (a major telecom company) is getting on board in supporting the cause. Let’s hope the growing awareness continues.