“Garden of Joy: An Ode to Elohim” was an art exhibition of 77 works by 22 artists with special needs that celebrated the God-given, creative talents of these individuals.
In the words of Manolo Valdes, renowned Spanish painter and sculptor, art is in essence, “anything that makes you happy”.
Young artist Leong Sijun, 13, embraces this ethos. His beautifully brilliant paintings of various plants and animals ranging from elegant calla lilies to majestic lions reflect his fascination and love for nature.
Ann Chong, 47, Sijun’s mother shared with City News the inspiration behind her son’s art: his love for animals. “He always says that animals need to have a home, animals need to go home. He loves nature — his drawings are always that of animals, wildlife, and forests.”
Yet Leong was not a normal child by society’s standards. He was born with Down Syndrome.
“Since he was young, Sijun never really liked playing with toys. However, he enjoyed drawing on drawing on art paper. At that time, I didn’t recognize his talent as I assumed that it was characteristic of all children with special needs.”
Leong’s talent was accidentally discovered. “We found out he had a talent for drawing when his school teacher sent his drawing in for a competition and he received a prize for participation,” recalls Chong. “When the organizer called and informed me of Sijun’s achievement, I was in disbelief. I even told the organizer that he must have been mistaken as my child has special needs and we didn’t participate in any competition. But when I went to look at his artwork, I realized that he was indeed talented and I decided to let him develop in this area.”
Leong enjoys using vibrant colors to express himself through his paintings and it gives him great joy whenever he paints. He also uses his art pieces to express his ideas and imagination, overcoming his challenges in the area of communication.
Correcting The Public Misconception
Leong is one of the contributors at the recent art exhibition, “Garden of Joy: An Ode to Elohim”.
A collaboration between City Harvest Church’s Jesus for All Minds (JAMs) ministry, Seedztudio Art Learning, and Class Living, “Garden of Joy: An Ode to Elohim” brought a breath of fresh air to Suntec Singapore Hall 605. Held from Oct 21 to 29 at the Hotspot area, the exhibition transformed the space to a beautiful verdant garden, replete with vibrant paintings of flora and fauna, framed by lush greenery and vivid blossoms—thanks to art director Amy Tan.
It was held in conjunction with the Purple Parade, an annual movement that champions the recognition and acceptance of individuals with special needs and their talents. Through increased openness and interaction with those with special needs, the Purple Parade pushes for a more accepting and inclusive society, one that appreciates and involves those who are differently abled.
Likewise, “Garden of Joy: An Ode to Elohim” was more than an art exhibition. It was a peek into the inner world of those with special needs, bringing to the public eye the colorful worlds of these special artists. Most importantly, the art exhibition was a tribute to Elohim God, an acknowledgment and celebration of the creative energy He breathes into each individual He created.
The organizers wanted the art pieces to serve as a bridge between the public and those with special needs. The exhibition aimed to raise awareness of the artists’ talents and abilities, at the same time, improve and correct the public’s misguided perceptions towards them.
“It creates public awareness of people with special needs,” said Lily Yong, the pastor incharge of JAMs. “Many people have the idea that the individuals with special needs have no talents or abilities. But most of us are awed by what these artists can do, simply looking at their artwork.”
On the last day of the exhibition, the “Garden of Joy” teemed with life; many came to meet the artists and congratulate them on their beautiful works.
Social entrepreneur Elim Chew and City Harvest Church’s co-founder Sun Ho graced the event as guests-of-honor. Ho shared her heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the artists.
“I just want to say to all the special ones that have contributed to the exhibition, especially all the little ones, I’m so moved by the beautiful artwork you have done,” said Ho. “When I look at these beautiful artworks, I really feel that you have created a haven for people like us. I find calm, joy in the soul when I step into this place. I’m so touched by what you have done, to use the beautiful gifts that God has given to you to express the love of Jesus Christ.”
Chew, a long-time champion of the special needs community, encouraged the audience to continue in their efforts towards a more inclusive and welcoming society. She shared about the importance of nurturing these budding talents as a community and a church.
“We all have belief in our special needs children and JAMS children,” she said. “We call them special because they are special: they are special talents and when we add belief to those talents, we can create great things. This is love without walls—when we come together, we break all rules and we give everything to make it possible.”