‘Art for the Heart’ at the Oxford Students’ Disability Community

An inclusive society, the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC) aims to promote understanding of disabilities and to bring together students with, or interested in, disabilities, to support them and to create a space of communication. It must be stressed that, here at OSDC, ‘disability’ is a very broad notion: it is first of all self-defining—namely anyone who identifies him/herself as having a disability will be welcomed and taken care of; going much further beyond the physical, it encompasses all the issues one might expect to encounter in life. It simply will not say ‘no’ to anyone who seeks support and help. One of the biggest composites of these issues is mental health, the presence of which, especially in an environment as high-paced as Oxford, could be considered quite normal, only that it is not. It must be addressed properly before it starts to make serious problems, yet sometimes to admit and face it takes a great deal of courage, let alone to talk about it with someone else. The OSDC, however, has found a perfect way of expression in the form of Art for the Heart, an ongoing gathering where participants channel their emotions through art, handicrafts, and poetry. I was lucky enough to catch one of their exhibitions last Sunday.

Art is something human beings just come to do naturally because, before we have learned our letters, it is the most important way of expression and communication.

Walking through the quad of Worcester College under a starry sky, emerging from some winding stairs and corridors, we suddenly found a modest, but elegantly decorated, room with a line of large windows. A long table was placed in the middle, with colour pens, decoration lights—precisely the kind you’d put on a Christmas tree—and a variety of objects laid upon it. Having a somewhat formal exhibition in mind, I was at first not entirely sure if I’d found the right place, but my doubts were soon cleared by a colourful, artistically designed poster with the OSDC logo. Having been greeted by the warm and welcoming smiles of the organisers, I was told that the ‘exhibition’ is only one part of the evening, that the area covered with sketch papers and pens was in fact more like an exhibition in the making. Whoever can create something there and then, their contribution will immediately be added in.

Both areas showed real talent, but while the on-spot artists only had paper and pen at their disposal, the exhibition proper—covering about three quarters of the table—consisted of several pieces of poetry—all delicately handwritten and illustrated—and art works exploring various media. There were painted canvases, both large and small, drawings, relief prints, and sculptural works on a small scale. Because most artists are in fact self-taught, they show a more daring choice of colour, style, and composition, and a much freer spirit than average exhibition. Looking at these works, I realised that they were not just ‘art for the heart’, but in essence ‘art of the heart’, which is the true and only form of art. Their works remind me that art is something human beings just come to do naturally because, before we have learned our letters, it is the most important way of expression and communication.

By the time I arrived, many in attendance, inspired and encouraged, had already created a handful of highly individualised paintings and scattered them freely across the table. To my surprise and with gladness, one of my friends also grabbed some pens and made her contribution—I was surprised because I knew she had just gone through a tough few days, feelings which she had internalised, but here she let it out in participating in the exhibition. And this is precisely the point, isn’t it?