A few months ago, Rachel Yao ’16 entered her artwork into the UN Draw Disability Contest created to encourage dialogue, raise awareness on disabilities and related issues within educational environments, and advocate respect and inclusion. The #DrawDisability campaign was launched on December 3, 2014, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Yao was first inspired to create her painting after observing the power of combining art with activism. She said, “At the time, I was really inspired by the MLK Day exhibit and how those artists used their art as a form of social activism.” This summer, while researching different ways to incorporate raising awareness for a specific cause into her artwork, she came across the United Nations Draw Disability contest.
She submitted her painting with two goals in mind: to support the cause for humans with disabilities and to gain support for her artwork. #DrawDisability fosters the exact message that Yao hoped to send to her painting’s viewers. After submitting her work, in order to advance into the next round, Yao needed others to vote for her piece online.
Yao said, “In a way, by asking people to like my work, I am helping to raise awareness for human disability, which isn’t a very talked about topic at Deerfield.”
Her piece is a reflection inspired by a visit when she was 7 years old to an orphanage in China housing children with mental disabilities. “Every drip represents the vast range of disabilities there are. People with disabilities are often perceived as having physical defects, but in fact they could be people with trouble communicating or opening up,” she described.
The UN Draw Disability Contest has sparked conversation throughout the world. In eight months the contest received almost 3,000 submissions from 50 countries. Out of these submissions, 125 of them were selected by a jury of experts according to the following criteria: message, creativity, technique, and overall impact. From those 125 chosen drawings, the 100 most voted for will be featured in the final #DrawDisability exhibition at the UN Headquarters in New York this December to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Yao explained, “If I do make it to that stage, it will open up countless opportunities for me as an artist, but more importantly, an activist. Art is my passion, and knowing that I could use it to change the world is very inspiring and motivating.”