Story Narrated by: Sheikha Aldosary- Riyadh
Hela Al-Muhaisen, is a 20 years old exceptional painter, born without arms yet she strives to be an extraordinary artist, using her feet & imagination to drawing outstanding portraits, unforgettable still images of nature and a surreal world.
Her portraits of ladies from the classical Victorian, ballet dancers, native American worries, African jungles hunters, stand side by side next to men and women in Saudi traditional clothes. In all powerful faces she draws, there are a mystery, perseverance, patience and no sign of weakness. Hela’s work is a colorful powerful celebration of diversity and coexistence.
However, on occasion, her paintings would reflect a painful situation and mixed feelings. A whale shaped turtle carrying the pain of environmental and emotional desertification. This is another example of her painting unique style that won her so many awards inside Saudi Arabia and abroad.
For the past 9 years since she has been painting professionally, she has produced more than 200 artwork mostly painting. She also has created decoupaged pieces with classical painting for her clients on special requests.
Hela participated in many art exhibitions and fairs in various cities in Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf countries. Her work has been featured in many newspapers and on covers of magazines, participated in art workshops as well. Winning many awards and certificates of recognition for her talent.
When she is not participating in an event, she would be mostly painting and producing new artwork, uploading different stages of her work on her social media, mostly Instagram and SnapChat. Replying to comments about her work and posting funny things to add a smile to her followers’ faces.
She described who she is in her twitter and Instagram bio by adding a violin next to her name and writing: “the artist is the one who transforms his desperate attempts to a beautiful reality. He is creative in his choices” then she adds: I was born without arms, so I made myself a feather to talk about me” and added a symbol of a crown. This mysterious feather could refer to her painting brush or imaginary wings, and the crown to how she is a queen in her world.
Her social media is her platform in which she shares her art, interact directly with her audience, as well as teaches basic skills of painting, art, drawing and giving tips to her followers.
On regular bases, Hela would post about her next lessons so her audience could prepare for a tailored SnapChat session to meet their needs. She also asks her followers for feedback, tips and any painting requests to be sent to her directly there.
Yet she advised in an interview: “some people buy my paintings out of sympathy and I do not like that. People should buy the painting for its artistic values, I don’t like the look of pity and empathy”
Her story is not only a story of overcoming obstacles in life, but rather a story of determination to be whoever she wanted to be. A living example that once you love your life and make the most out of it, you will reach your goals and the sky is the limit.
At a young age, she convinced herself that: “she is normal and looks the same as every one of her family but a thief stole her arms”. As she grew up and realized that she was born with a disability… she started searching for ways to ease that pain. Observing her family members especially her mom and trying to be part of all the family activities using her feet gave her a bit of joy and few laughs.
However, at the age of 12, the reality started to hit her harder and her mom’s observation took another level. Being a daughter of an artist and art teacher opens her eyes to art as a possibility to ease her pain.
Hela started to isolate herself and draw, painting that no one sees. Using her feet to hold the brush then paint away her pain.
After days and days of solitary work away from all, and failing first attempts, her painting skills started to show. With clear shapes, details, and features but lack the colors.
“I’m sorry to say but back then I didn’t like my look, I didn’t like I’m handicapped. Therefore, I used to reflect my suffering in my paintings…I used to paint by mixing red and black colors only” she said in an interview.
When her mom saw her paintings, she spotted her daughter talent and helped her to hone it. Helping her with all painting tips and techniques she knows and registering her on a well-known art and painting workshop working with a professional artist in Dammam, a city western of Saudi Arabia where they live.
“the workshop eventually added colors to my paintings which used to be gloomy” said Hela
the workshop didn’t only hone Hela’s skills but also defined her art line and characteristics.
“After that, I start accepting myself. Thank god I start to see it (the disability) as something unique that took me where I am today and distinguished me as an artist”.she added
From that day on Hela continues her art journey, and her hard work and talents took her to higher levels.
In all occasions, Hela never forgets the big role of her family supporting her to be the artist she is today. Being a daughter of a traditional conservative family, wearing the full veil, didn’t prevent her from following her dream. On the contrary, her parents travel with her and support her work.
“My parents are my first supporters, they admire my work, their care planted confidence inside me” she said.
Hela with her parents
Hela’s mom in an interview mentioned that she treats all her kids the same way and never differentiate between Hela and the other. Remembering Hela as a child she said:
“Whenever she wanted us to bring her something (because she is lazy), I would say: why should we do it for you? you don’t have hands?! Go and take what you want yourself… There is no need for us to bring you things you can bring it yourself”
“by doing this Hela didn’t feel she has a special case, but she felt just like all of them” she added in the interview.
Same would go with household chores. Hela’s mom would involve Hela equally just like her siblings. Being a “handicapped” is a word that “doesn’t exist in our vocabulary”. She explained
The only time Hela wished if she has hands was when her aunt passed away, as she said:
“I wanted to hug my mom and I couldn’t do it”
Now Hela has mastered many skills not only painting and art.
“I am the one putting make up on all my sisters without exception with my feet and I cook as well” she said with a smile.
“I drink coffee with my feet and my pinky up to follow the etiquette” she said laughing in an interview.
Hela’s dream is to open the first studio/art center for artists with special needs. In which art tools, workshops, professional mentoring is provided and specialized exhibitions to highlight their work.
Hela’s advice: “Nothing is impossible in life. Train yourself to have experiments. If you make a mistake, it is okay because a mistake is the beginning of every success. Love and trust yourself. By doing this You will see that you overcame obstacles and succeeded.”
To follow Hela’s work on social media
To read and watch some of her interviews. (ARABIC)