When it comes to organisations that work with individuals with special needs, artist and illustrator Aida Sa’ad—better known as Yellow Mushmellow—has a high bar. “I have two sisters with special needs, so I have grown up observing the way people communicate with and about people with special needs. Some art programmes catering to them come from a very sympathetic mindset, like oh, let’s help these poor kids.”
Instead, Sa’ad believes that genuine inclusion comes from looking past labels. For this reason, she was drawn to non-profit movement Superhero Me, focused on inclusive arts programming and training to, in their own words, “arm children from special needs and less privileged communities with creative confidence”. It was there that Sa’ad met Aliyya, a charming 13-year-old art lover and student leader at her school, Rainbow Centre.
Aliyya, who uses a wheelchair and an iPad to communicate, has an innate love for fashion and patterns that was immediately impressive to Sa’ad. “I noticed that she wore lots of bracelets and rings, and had her hair in a fake bun. She’s only 13 and she already has such a keen sense of style,” Sa’ad laughs.
Now, the pair are teaming up to spread the joy of accessible art through Apple’s Grow with Creativity series. As part of the Today at Apple programme and leading up to Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Sa’ad and Aliyya will join other artists and take the stage at Apple stores in Singapore. The sessions, which have been organised in partnership with Superhero Me, will run till 28 May, and have been mindfully designed to enrich children of all abilities.
Here, Sa’ad shares her experience working with the precocious Aliyya, the details of their session and why accessible art is the best conduit for authentic self-expression.
How would you describe your art style and what inspires you?
My work is colourful, fun and playful. I work across mediums rather than sticking to one particular format. I can do everything from digital art to murals—as long as it helps me express myself. I draw the most inspiration from my everyday experiences. In fact, my first foray into art was during my A Levels. After each paper, I drew a doodle about how difficult it was. Eventually, people started looking forward to them. Instead of asking me how my paper went, teachers would come up to me and ask what I drew that day. [Laughs]
Have your sisters had any influence on your work?
A lot of my work is actually inspired by my sisters. My younger sister has autism, and has has periods of time when she gets obsessed with things. She had a rainbow phase sometime back, where she would just make so much rainbow art every day. I enjoyed that phase so much that I turned it into an installation at The Artground, which is a free access art space for children. I translated her playfulness with rainbows into things that other children could enjoy. She had another phase where she would colour entire pieces of paper in with a pencil. The textures were just so interesting that I scanned them and used them in my art.
My other sister has a more complicated chromosomal disorder, referred to as Global Development Delay. She is non-verbal and really enjoys playing with rubber bands. I was inspired by how a tiny piece of rubber could bring so much joy to her, and in 2019, created an installation in Hanoi based on the idea of rubber as a play tool. These are just some examples of the kind of inspiration I see in my sisters. I definitely think that they are artists in their own right.
“Art is no-rules land. Being playful and imaginative is the goal, so it really is a safe space for creative exploration”
How do you think art enhances the lives of individuals of all abilities?
Art, to me, is all about self-expression. Everyone has a story to tell. A lot of people say, “I’m not an artist, because I can’t draw.” Drawing is something you can learn, and it is secondary to the story or whatever you want to express. Art is also no-rules land. Being playful and imaginative is the goal, so it really is a safe space for creative exploration. There are no wrong answers.
What has your experience working with Aliyya been like?
When I first met Aliyya, I knew that we could not use something like Procreate, since she has limited mobility in her fingers and would not be able to use an Apple Pencil. But it wasn’t a problem because I realised that we could just use Keynote. She is really adept at using her iPad to communicate, so I predicted that learning software is not a problem for her. Sure enough, she was up for the challenge and learnt things really quickly. We make art through shapes on Keynote, which is also really in line with my art style.
Tell us about the Today at Apple session you will be hosting together.
The basics of this session is learning how to put shapes together to bring your vision to life. So, for example, an ice cream cone would be a semi-circle and a triangle for the cone. The fun lies in customising it. If we create 10 different ice cream cones and put them all together, it becomes a pattern. The limitations that are put in place actually make us more creative—and that’s what we want to teach the audience, how they can translate simple shapes into a pattern that expresses their identity. Then, they can bring home a wallpaper for their iPad or iPhone—like a cute tech wearable.
To learn more about making art accessible, join Sa’ad and Aliyya at their session at Today at Apple.