Touch Drawing with Mentally Disabled People in Arica, Chile

by Tosha Tobias with Photographs by Kenny

Tosha Tobias has been opening the way for Touch Drawing in Chile for a number years. Along with her working partner, Ximena, she has recently introduced Touch Drawing to teachers, children in a nursery school and mentally disabled adults in an institutional setting. She has exhibited her own Touch Drawings in Santiago, and has plans for an exhibition of Touch Drawings by children with cancer in the future.
We were invited to teach in Umpade, an institution where they receive people of low income, of different ages and with different degrees of mental disorder.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Erika, who is in charge there. She hadn’t told us the ages, disabilities, and other information that we needed ahead of time. We had thought we were going to teach children. At the beginning we didn’t even know how to speak to them! We just had to improvise.

The rest of them helped us out by talking to them and soon we were very relaxed. We put paint tubes on the tables and told them they would share. Then we showed them what they had to do. I provided the rollers, one for each one. They had their papers and plastic place mats so they began immediately. Meanwhile, Ximena and I moved around the room helping them with the paint, while Kenny took pictures and filmed.
It was such a pleasure to see how they enjoyed it in their simplicity, how they helped each other out…..a great lesson for us! Erika had brought her two grandchildren, identical twins who were normal boys. We asked them if they wanted to participate but they said this wasn’t for them. We set them up a place in case they decided to join. They did after a short time and found that this was really cool! Erika even helped them.

Mario has a severe case of Autism. He was in his corner listening to loud music. His mother told us that he didn’t talk to anyone, that his corner was the only place he would be and that his radio was his friend. So we asked her to bring him ear phones, and we set him up in his corner with the materials he would use, if he wanted to. His mother would be there to help him. I went to Mario and asked him if he wanted to paint. He said “OK”  Then I showed him two paint tubes and asked him which he wanted. “The brown one” he said and took it. And he started rolling paint and doing touch drawing! His mother couldn’t believe it.

After a break, where they were served tea and sandwiches, we set them up in couples and asked them to share their paintings. And in their own language, they communicated!

Then we asked them to give us their favourite drawing while they continued their sharing and Kenny pasted them to the black cardboard.

Danae, who is also autistic, had her mother next to her all the time, too. When Danae had come in the previous day I had given her some paper and a pen. All she did was draw circles. I said “draw a cat”, “cat” she said and she drew a circle. “Draw a doll”, “doll” she repeated and another circle. This went on and on. But this time her mom, had her eyes full of tears. Danae was not drawing circles anymore. And she also shared with the friend that was across from her. We don’t know how they understood each other, but they did.

The workshop ended with us giving them their mounted drawings and taking pictures. Mario even stood up for his! Then one of them stood up and gave a super speech thanking us in his name and that of his colleagues and asking us to come back because everybody really enjoyed this new activity.

We couldn’t believe that they had stayed interested all 3 hours. We left with our hearts full of love and satisfaction of a job well done. You judge for yourself when you see their paintings. They were not guided at all.