x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Anyone for a new Dutch master?

Artwork by autistic children and a group of expatriate Dutch artists will be auctioned at The Atlantis hotel to support the autism centre.

Wietske Heijkoop with the Dutch artists' paintings to be auctioned for the Dubai Autism Centre.
Wietske Heijkoop with the Dutch artists' paintings to be auctioned for the Dubai Autism Centre.

DUBAI // A group of Dutch artists will begin auctioning their paintings tomorrow to raise funds for the Dubai Autism Center, the emirate's only non-profit organisation for autistic children and teenagers.

Some 15 Dutch artists living in Dubai hope the funds raised will help to build the centre's long-delayed new home in the Garhoud area.

"This is our first auction and we wanted to do something special this year," said Wietske Heijkoop, an artist and the organiser of the auction, which is over two days at the Atlantis The Palm hotel.

"The centre's work really touched us. We thought we should do something to help finish the building so they can teach more kids."

The Dubai Autism Center operates from a villa and teaches 47 students to the age of 18.

Its two-storey headquarters, still under construction, will have the capacity to accommodate 200 children on the centre's waiting list.

Work has been delayed for the past two years owing to lack of funds after the economic downturn, said Hayula Mourad, the head of business support at the centre.

"We depend heavily on contributions from society but this is not just about funds, it's also about engaging the community into the cause," said Ms Mourad.

"The auction helps us reach a wider audience with diversified interests. It helps us spread awareness that parents should not be scared of autism, but seek help as early as possible. It's also very important for us to help individuals with autism integrate into society."

The first step towards forging such links is three large paintings put together by the Dutch artists from 50 paintings by the students of colourful flowers, portraits and Arabic pottery.

"Our kids are very good at painting and drawing," Ms Mourad said. "They have created something unique. Their joy can be seen in the paintings. Many may not speak but can communicate through pictures."

Two paintings by the children will go under the hammer on Thursday, and one will be auctioned tomorrow.

The auction will also feature 25 artworks including photographs, abstracts, portraits and etchings by the Dutch artists, who have held annual exhibitions of their work in the UAE for the past two years.

It is estimated one child in every 110 is diagnosed with autism in the Middle East region. About 40 million people suffer from the Autism Spectrum Disorder worldwide, the World Health Organisation says.

"A child with special needs is not treated differently in Holland but here it's difficult to get help for these children," said Ms Heijkoop, the Dutch artist who has lived in Dubai for six years.

"This is our small way of helping these children and helping the community we live in."

rtalwar@thenational.ae