Although he was born with normal hearing, by the time he was six years old, Victor Sitali was completely deaf. He learnt to communicate with sign language, but it wasn’t until two years ago, when he started attending the Mawaheb art centre, that he realised he was fluent in a language that didn’t need words: art.
Since then, Sitali has painted every day. Now he is exhibiting his first solo show at Art Couture in the Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai.
The show features 22 paintings of varying styles – mostly portraiture with a few animals. Sitali has chosen a number of iconic figures such as Bob Marley, Che Guevara and Rihanna, as well as some people who hold significance to him personally. These include an old Emirati man he saw fishing by the Dubai Creek. Sitali stopped and took his photograph.
“His face was so wrinkled and his eyes had so much character, I really liked the way he looked so I took his picture and I painted it,” says Sitali. “It is now my favourite in the whole series.”
There are also two self-portraits, one that he created using coffee and acrylics on canvas and another that he painted under the guidance of Trevor Waugh, a British painter who has been acting as Sitali’s mentor.
Finding his way
When Sitali’s family relocated to Dubai from their native Zambia, he was 16 and had just finished school. Initially, his family sent him to South Africa to learn how to be a chef but in 2011, he enrolled at Mawaheb for Beautiful People, an art centre for adults with special needs.
“When I started, I was surprised that I could paint so well. I just really enjoyed the process. But now it is developing into something that is becoming my life,” he says.
Developing the process
Earlier this year, when Waugh invited him to a residence at his studio in Cheltenham, UK, Sitali began working on his technique and learning about oil and watercolour. Since then, there has been a marked improvement in his work as he has learnt how to incorporate light and shadow. “I discovered so much with Trevor and it has really given me confidence now in my art,” he says.
When he travels to England, to Waugh’s studio, Sitali doesn’t travel with an interpreter – they communicate through natural sign language and by writing notes to each other on the iPad.
“The voice can be heard by sound but I can speak through the work of my hands,” says Sitali. “That has become my motto.”
A new life
According to his mother, Dorothy, after he lost his hearing, Victor became a shy child and an introverted teenager. But, since he discovered art, he has found a new lease of life. “Victor has always been multitalented, anything we introduce him to he seems to catch it,” she says. “But since he started art he has become more confident, happier and much more social.
“Initially, I was very sad when he lost his hearing and so worried about what he would do with his life. But now it is totally different; every day I am smiling and every day he is showing me new things. I am full of happiness, pride and hope.”
After this exhibition, Sitali will travel back to the UK for a second residence with Waugh and he hopes eventually to move into digital art and graphic design.
“I want to continue with my art and learn new techniques as much as possible,” he says. “I am happy to have this exhibition so that more people can see my art.”
• Spoken Art runs until September 7 at Art Couture, Al Badia Golf Club, Festival City, Dubai
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