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Rifky, 17, is a special-needs student and the proud artist of a replica of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by 17th century Japanese artist Hokusai, which he created with an upcycled eyeshadow palette.

But it isn’t merely a makeup-based copy; Rifky had left a piece of himself in his artwork, adding a quaint detail only keen eyes would notice.

“I decided to make this artwork brand new,” he says. “Look, I updated the boat!”

Special needs artist sustainability
Rifky with his drawing of the Great Wave. Image source: Jamie Wong

True enough, in place of the original tiny wooden boat sits an equally tiny modern ship. “I kept laughing when I was drawing this,” he says. “This is the world’s funniest idea!”

Rifky’s drawing of the Great Wave, along with another eyeshadow-based work featuring Japanese cranes, are exhibited along with 36 more student artworks – all created from upcycled cosmetics in an effort to creatively upcycle them.

Titled Beauty of Art, the exhibition is organised by Rainbow Centre in collaboration with beauty and makeup brand Shiseido Asia Pacific, and is on show at The Fullerton Hotel’s East Garden Gallery round the clock till this Sunday (Feb 27). Admission is free.

Fullerton Hotel Art Exhibition
The exhibition at The Fullerton Hotel is on till Feb 27. Image source: Jamie Wong

Like the 25 other students whose works are on display in the exhibition, Rifky is part of Rainbow Centre’s Artability programme, where he learns how to use art skills to gain work opportunities. Rifky attends Artability twice a week from 1 to 5pm at the centre’s Yishun Park campus, after he finishes the regular school curriculum at Rainbow Centre.

Started in 2018, Artability has served 38 student artists. Most of the students have autism while some of them have physical disabilities. Their ages range from 15 years old to 18 years old.

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A spokesman for Rainbow Centre says: “Our trainers nurture these students by giving them the right support and opportunities to maximise their artistic potential. They also provide emotional support to develop their ability to communicate, express themselves confidently and develop a stronger sense of self, all of which contribute to Rainbow Centre’s broader vision of helping our students build Good Lives and blossom as young adults.”

Finding inspiration

Special needs artist sustainability
Because the eyeshadow powder gets messy, Rifky mixes it with a little bit of water before applying it to his canvas. Image source: Rainbow Centre

“It took me three weeks to finish the Great Wave, and seven weeks to finish the Japanese cranes,” says Rifky. He chose to make these two artworks after a memorable trip to Japan in 2015.

“During my first trip to Japan, I saw these cranes flying over me. It was one of the first things I saw,” he says. “When I was painting this, I imagined myself looking at the same cranes posing during sunset.”

Not far from Rifky’s works is a painting of Mount Fuji done by Javier Pek, 18. He started creating artworks for this exhibition in mid-2021, the same year he graduated from Rainbow Centre’s Margaret Drive campus.

Throughout his time in the Artability programme, Javier has drawn many landmarks in Singapore and abroad. One of his favourite landmarks is Mount Fuji.

“I like to draw travel landmarks,” he says. “I want to travel everywhere… especially Japan, to see Mount Fuji.”

Special needs artist
Javier’s finished mascara painting of Mount Fuji. Image source: Rainbow Centre

Like Rifky’s quirky take on the Great Wave, Javier loves to give his other drawings of stately landmarks a playful, lighthearted twist by splashing colours all over the architecture. “Colours make me feel good,” he says, “I feel happy when I paint them.”

But for people like Rifky and Javier, art does more than help them express themselves. “Humans are more advanced now,” Rifky jokes, “people with disabilities can now do artwork!”

Rifky explains that it’s because people like him think and see the world differently, he often feels weird when trying to make conversation with others.

Art helps him connect with others where words may be hard.

Seeing the world in a different hue

“I’m always a quiet person. I feel like I’m much different from my friends and family. My hobbies, movies, tastes, the way I communicate… I’m so different from the others at school and the people at home,” says Rifky.

A big fan of action films and first-person shooting games, Rifky knows volumes about the characters, episodes and plots from cartoons and shows like He-Man, G.I Joe, Ultraman and Kamen Rider. His favourite movie is Pacific Rim, he tells me.

In his sketchbook, he often combines armour, weapons, and even buildings from these shows to create new places, weapons and characters.

Special needs artist sustainability
Rifky explains that his tower of reality (left) acts as a bridge between light and dark. He explains that the tower came from a crystal comet (top right). On the bottom right, he combines lightsabers, chainsaws and blasters to make other weapons. Image source: Jamie Wong

Javier, on the other hand, loves watching the National Day Parade.

“I like watching the uniformed groups marching by,” he says. “The army, police, SCDF… also vehicles like the pump ladder fire trucks, and my favourite, the Peacekeeper protected response vehicle.”

Thanks to art, their passions have received much love and appreciation. For example, Javier’s drawing of Singapore’s icons was featured on last year’s National Day merchandise.

Special needs artist sustainability
Javier’s designs were on the compact fans in the NDP pack, on stickers, and at National Day exhibitions around Singapore. Image source: Rainbow Centre

And both of Rifky’s works at Fullerton Hotel were sold on the first day of the exhibition. Proceeds from the sale of artwork goes towards the student artists and the Artability programme at Rainbow Centre. Currently, 31 of 38 pieces of art have been sold, which add up to $6,760 in sales.

“I’m so happy and proud that my artwork has been sold,” he says, “The only thing I feel bad for is that other people wanted my artwork after it was sold. I wish I could make copies and give it to them.”

More importantly, Rifky tells The Pride, what makes him enjoy creating art is the tremendous support from his fellow artist friends at Artability. “They’re my brothers,” he says. “We study together, we fight together, and we study hard for every single subject!”

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Friendship forged in creativity

Currently, there are three other students in Rifky’s art class. “We got so many cool friends,” he says, recalling his classmates’ shenanigans. “We’ll tease and prank each other sometimes!”

Every lesson, Rifky’s classmate, Khairul, who watches the news, would keep everyone updated about current affairs and the economy; another classmate, Sabrina, would play K-pop songs on Spotify on the shared laptop as they work on their art pieces.

Special needs artist sustainability
Rifky shares a strong bond with Teacher Yazid. They often joke around during lessons and share creative ideas. Image source: Rainbow Centre

Rifky would also brainstorm with his trainer, Mr Yazid. “My teacher gives me crazy ideas,” he says, “and sometimes I get crazy ideas with him.”

“We put the pieces together and make my art grow.”

Rifky says that he has met good artists and good friends in Artability. He graduates after next year, and hopes that the friendship will continue.

“When I graduate, I want to do photography, art, and be a full-time goalkeeper,” he says, suddenly sharing about his love for football, “and someday I will meet my friends again and we will do an exhibition together!”

In fact, Rifky’s passion for drawing has even sparked similar creativity in his family. “My cousin tries to follow my drawings, and my uncle drew in my sketchbook,” he says.

Special needs artist sustainability
Rifky’s family brings him a lot of joy and comfort, and inspires him to be strong, kind and understanding. Image source: Jamie Wong

While his family’s not as interested in art, action movies and games as he is, Rifky is grateful for their support and cares for them deeply.

“My family inspires me to study hard and go to college. Their words mean a lot to me… I want them to be proud of me and my art,” says Rifky.

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Top Image: Rainbow Centre