x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Healed girl inspires art-based fundraiser

Art initiative will raise funds for the visually impaired.

DUBAI // A young African girl who revelled in a world with colour after undergoing cataract surgery has inspired an art project to raise funds to help restore the sight of visually impaired people across the world.

The Noor Dubai Foundation, an international charity for the prevention and treatment of blindness and low vision, has joined Art Connection on Art4Sight in a project that traces its roots to a 12-year-old Malian patient.

During a panel discussion and art exhibit at the Dubai International Financial Centre atrium, Dr Manal Taryam, chief executive and member of the board of trustees at Noor Dubai Foundation, said the idea stemmed from her heartwarming reaction following her eye operation.

"We operated on her in 2008 and during the recovery period while she still had sore eyes and was tearing, we noticed that she would pick up colours to draw on the walls and bedsheets while still in hospital."

Doctors were delighted that the child was excited to see the contrast in colours. Thus began the idea for Art4Sight.

In an auction held yesterday, the project collected money by selling art pieces that had been donated by galleries and private collectors.

"The aim is to have art fund some of our programmes in Africa and Asia," Dr Taryam said.

"We are hoping that Art4Sight will eventually be able to fund an institute so we can train people and teach them how to treat and prevent blindness in their country. That would be a very good sustainability plan."

Noor Dubai Foundation, begun in 2008 by Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has already treated 5.8 million people in the UAE, Africa and Asia.

"The cause of reversible blindness is cataract, and the surgery can cost as little as US$8 in some countries, but that is still too expensive for some people," Dr Taryam said.

Shamsa Quraiban, the owner of Art Connection, an art management company, played an active role in collecting the works and curating the exhibition. "We have the support of art galleries and private collectors, as well as the auctioneers Bonhams," Ms Quraiban said. "People think that raising money for an auction is always for a commercial cause but we really wanted to give back to the community."

Mattar bin Lahej, a renowned Emirati artist, was among those who contributed a sculpture estimated at $20,000, as well as some of his paintings. "The 200 kilogram sculpture is called Tawahog and signifies the movement and feeling of horses," said Mr bin Lahej. "I was touched by the foundation's mission and wanted to support the cause."

The exhibition encompasses 54 pieces, including photos and paintings, by artists from the UAE and across the Middle East. Touching images of the work that the foundation carried out in Pakistan will also be auctioned.

Guy Vesey, regional director of Bonhams in the Middle East, said: "We are giving our time and name to run the auction. We would like to sell it all for a huge amount of money."

balqabbani@thenational.ae