Nothing Without Us – Ranger Station Art Gallery

Mujtaba Saloojee

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1995, one year after Nelson Mandela was voted as the president of a new democracy. My family was an integral part of the new revolution and I grew up with Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela as household names. Our home was always filled with people in our community and my brothers and I spent much of our time creating, gardening, and building tactile projects of some kind. We always had a great supply of costumes and anything that could be made into some kind of art!

The kids in the neighbourhood could always be found hanging out in our front yard with a bucket of various art supplies and interesting projects going on. In the evenings, my parents always spent time reading books to us. We were supplied with simple crafts such as knitting or hook rug as a way to keep our hands occupied. My favourite way to keep my hands busy was to doodle! And so my love for ‘doodling’ began!

I loved comic art and cartoon satirical pieces for school projects. I sketched on my walls in my room, on skateboards and even on my shoes! I even managed to doodle my way into the National School of Arts in Johannesburg, and spent an awesome year sucking up all the art I could! When I went for the audition, I was given a piece of paper and instructed to create an origami fish within a limited time.

Everything was looking great until I blew into my fish. I spit a tad too much while blowing into the origami and was left, 5 minutes before the deadline, with a soggy mess! All I had time to do was tear off a small piece of the page and create a miniature version of my fish. I thought for sure that I was doomed!

On the contrary, I was commended for creating my own style! And that is how my year at art school continued. I was noted for my spontaneity and ability to creatively solve problems!

In my 2nd year, my family moved to Canada. 6 months after moving to Vancouver, I broke my neck, when a rotted tree fell on me. I spent much of the next 3 years re-learning how to do everything, and my art, took a back seat. Every time I tried to even pick up a pencil, I just ended up throwing it across the room in frustration. It seemed like I would never be able to do what I loved most ever again. Slowly, frustratingly, I tried every so often as my strength increased. My limited hand function meant that I could not get enough pressure when sketching, and my hands would spasm all the time making my work look like a scribbly mess.

My dad went out and bought me an easel, some brushes and some paints. It sat unused in my room for almost a year. My life was being consumed with being a quad. Everyday was just managing my injury and all that went with it. I desperately needed an outlet. I decided to give the paints a go.

Every time I pick up a brush and start painting I feel calm and mindful of my present.

Like a part of me is free! My energy is focused and I forget that I have spasms or pain or that my hands don’t work. Instead of judging my work on what I could do before, I am focused on the now. My sketching is becoming more consistent and I have learned to use my limited hand function and spasms within the boundaries of the art itself. Each piece is a part of all that encompasses my old and new me, with all that I have lost, and all that I have gained.

About Kickstart Disability Arts

Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture is a Vancouver based arts non-profit that supports and promotes artists who identify as living with disabilities.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.