Many a time, the visual narratives surrounding the disabled community in Malaysia is shrouded with elements of helplessness and pity. Displeased with this realisation, one man spent his entire career on a mission to shift these mindsets.
Meet Victor Chin, a 70-year old Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the visual arts. Whilst Victor describes himself as a writer, designer, photographer, aspiring film-maker, and proud activist, he identifies most with being a painter at heart.
In conjunction with the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival (YSDAF), Victor will be co-hosting a photography exhibition about the various barriers faced by disabled people during the festival finale this 18 & 19 August 2018 at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
So why did Victor decide to champion the disabled group?
Not too long after his designing career took off, Victor became increasingly dissatisfied with solving only his clients’ visual challenges. Victor felt he needed a change, so he began by making drawings, paintings, and photographs of the disappearing old shophouses in his neighbourhoods.
Through exploring different ways of seeing and creating visual arts, the plight of the disabled community caught his attention. It occurred to Victor that people often photograph the disabled community in a rigid, downcast and dejected manner. Almost instantly, he was convicted to re-engineer the portrayals of the disabled community.
Victor first started by photographing them aesthetically, likening the process to an artist mustering an acuity for emotional consciousness. This, he says, allows him to reinvent the ordinary into something extraordinary.
“My work is about bringing the neglected issues of community, such as people’s suffering, into more accessible areas. I’m interested as an activist to bring forth common issues about humanity that need changing, like our attitudes towards the disabled.”
What has Victor learnt from his work with disabled groups?
Victor’s first nugget of wisdom is simple: speak up when we feel something is not right. By speaking up, we are capable of bringing change.
“We can share thoughts and draw attention to an issue to improve somebody’s plight or suffering— strictly out of empathy, sympathy, and understanding of our human condition.”
Empathy is also a powerful tool in connecting with marginalised communities, says Victor. He uses his art as a vehicle to present observations which he believes will help others develop a deeper understanding of the disabled community. Through his work, he explores themes such as the daily routines of a blind individual and whether the public’s one-off donations for disabled group performances actually support their livelihoods effectively.
How can we play a part in breaking stigmas surrounding the disabled community?
Victor shares that a good starting point would be making the visual profile of disabled communities more readily available in public and social media. He also urges artists, photographers, and activists to re-examine and shift the visual narrative of marginalised groups to one that speaks of empowerment and agency.
Part of his own efforts to break these stigmas included a photography exhibition launched a decade ago on Malaysian Paralympic athletes, titled “Triumph”. During this exhibition, Victor organised a lunch from his own pocket money to bring together numerous individuals from different disability groups with one aim in mind: building a united community to advance their common pursuit of equality. It was here that he met Peter Tan, a close friend of his and another one of our #MalaysianHeroes, who now conducts the Disability Equality Training programme.
“We worked together and learnt about how artists and activists like him need to use public spaces and media to discuss important issues that affects our communities.”
Together, Victor and Peter will be hosting a photography exhibition at the festival finale this YSDAF 2018. Peter’s photographs will circle the theme of barriers faced by disabled people, whilst Victor will showcase another aspect of disability, particularly how blind individuals earn their livelihoods through busking.
To find out more about Victor and the work he does, visit victorchin.com.