Had Covid not existed, I would have come to Bandung to visit Faisal Rusdi. However, the rising number of cases and other conditions do not allow me to visit him.
To be honest, I’m deeply curious to meet the man. I want to know what he does, to get to know him better, and to understand what so special about him. Here is my story.
Mouth Painting from the Heart
Not many people know his name, Faisal Rusdi. That is normal, considering I just heard his name last week and learned about his work. Afterwards, my curiousity grew and I started to admire him. He is painter, but not just a regular painter. Aal – what his closest people call Faisal – is painter with a disability. He has a cerebral palsy condition.
About a week ago, I managed to contact him and made acquitance of him. I also addressed my intention and my reason to interview him, which was thankfully accepted by him. After some chats through WhatsApp (WA), he sent some links to some of his YouTube videos. One video was about his life, while other videos are footage of him being covered or interviewed by Indonesian private TV stations.
I learned about how he paints and from there, I understood the reason why people called him ‘special’. A footage covered by DAAI Tv started by him walking using his lower abdomen while rested on both of his elbows, towards a canvas with an unfinished painting. Slowly he opened a painting tube with his mouth and limbs. Watching it was uneasy but he managed squeezed out the paint out of the tube.
After that, he started to dip his brush onto the palette and swept it on a canvas, depicting a scenery with a sunset (or a fullmoon?). Many times he dipped and swept his brush. Then he stopped when he felt that the color is just right. He then repeated it to different part of the canvas. I silently watched what Aal was doing. Evenmore, the footage of his artwork took my breath away. I may not an expert of art, yet I still feel the artistry in his paintings. A beautiful painting which sooths the eye and calms the heart.
For us who see the painting, questions might arise on how did he do it or difficult it was. My mind was full of questions like these. So, I posed this question to him through WA on Thursday, July 9th. ‘When did you start painting?” I asked, “I read on the internet that you began to by using your foot?”.
My questions continued in our WA chat. Aal who was the first child of five siblings answered that he began to do mouth painting in 1999-2000. “ I felt comfortable using my mouth because my brush has enough space and good reach because I was laying on my chest which doesn’t tire me or make my back and buttocks hurt. My tutor said that my paintings are better and bolder when I used my mouth” he explained.
When I asked him, whether he practiced and how long did he practiced to master painting with his mouth, he explained that his activities at home were also done by using his mouth, such as biting the cup to drink, moving things around, etc.
“So, when I transitioned from painting with my left hand to painting with my mouth, it happened fast and easy. I practiced it by myself. It was about a month (to master painting by mouth),” he said.
One of the moments that tested his ability and resilience occurred in 2017. At that time, he had the opportunity and at the same time succeeded in holding a solo exhibition entitled Color of Journey in the City of West Torrens, City of Adelaide, Australia.
He abc.net.au, interviewed him, Faisal explained how opening a solo exhibition in Australia (his first exhibition abroad) was quite a difficult thing to pull off since Australian galleries put their local artists first.
But he was lucky. When his wife and him moved house, they met the landlord who was also a painter. “I directly asked him on how to open a solo exhibition” he said, as reported by abc.net.au.
The landlord welcomed him and just happen to have a good connection with the Gallery in the City of West Torrens. The landlord had several solo exhibitions there. From then on, Aal’s path to his own solo exhibition had widen. However, he still needed to prepare his painting that he will exhibit in the exhibition.
As reported by abc.net.au, at that time he had four months to held his solo exhibitions. “I painted from 8 a.m. up until the evening. I only rested to eat and pray.” Aal explained to Erwin Renaldi from ABC Melbourne.
At the end, his first solo and international exhibition was succesfuly held. He considered this exhibition to be deeply meaningful. For instance, this exhibition is a testament to his quality since no one believed in him when he first arrived in Adelaid just because he is disabled person.
In the same year, Faisal stayed in Adelaide to accompany his wife, Cucu Saidah, who was studying Public Policy Master’s degree in Flinders University. When he applied for a visa, they told him to prepare a proposal on what he will do in Australia.
Also, the exhibition presented his work of art which has been his dreams and hopes for a long. It has never happened while he’s in Indonesia.
About Cerebral Palsy
Carefully, I asked Aal about the Celebral Palsy condition. He has talked about it in on of his video, titled The Story of My Life. One sentence that I remember and quote from the video is this, I was born with Cerebral Palsy which effect to my ability.
Celebral Palsy, he continued in the video, is a kind of disorder in nerve of brain that causes to different things, such as motor or sensor. On the cdc.gov website, it is stated that Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance posture.
But how exactly is his Cerebral Palsy condition? I pointed out this question and he was kind enough to asnwer. "So, from birth, the nerves of my cerebellum were disturbed (which) resulted in stiffness from the neck down, especially my hands and feet were paralyzed," he replied via WA message.
Does Cerebral Palsy as a rare disease? According to Dr. Widya Eka Nugraha, an observer of rare diseases in Indonesia, it depends on the cause. In general, Cerebral Palsy is not rare. But if the cause is traced, it could be a rare disease," he said via WA message, Monday (7/6).
About Becoming a Model and Active in Advocacy
On the same day, I continued my question through WA. This time is about his activities other than painting.
"I focus on painting and sometimes participate in advocacy on disability and accessibility issues with the Jakarta Barrier Free Tourism (JBFT) and the Bandung Independent Living Center (BIlic)," he explained.
Regarding his focus in painting, his success in holding a solo exhibition abroad (Adelaide, Australia) has been a testament and an extraordinary achievement. However, it turns out that his achievements in his own country have been similarly brilliant. Two photo slides in The Story of My Life video show him doing a painting demonstration in front of Mr. SBY and the late Ibu Ani Yudhoyono.
“With SBY, it was around 2007. I was invited to a painting demonstration in the courtyard of the Bogor Palace. If I'm not mistaken, it's in the context of National Children's Day,” he answered when I asked about the photo with SBY.
Also, there is a photo of him with Jokowi which was taken in 2009 in a joint painting demonstration to celebrate the anniversary of the City of Solo, in the courtyard of the Mayor of Solo.
When asked how he felt, he answered "Obviously proud and happy, especially Pak Jokowi because my drawings were purchased on the spot (by Jokowi)," he recalled.
Faisal Rusdi apparently has also been a model. He participated as a model in a music video clip by Regina (singer from the Indonesian Idols Talent event) entitled ‘Victory’. I found out about this, again from his YouTube video that he sent me. The music video ends right after he talks about his life journey.
He explained to me that the music video was taken in 2013. He was asked directly by Upie Guava, the director of the music video. At that time, he was asked to meet Upie's assistant and then the filming process was carried out during the month of Ramadan which spent about 8 hours for the shooting process. In the afternoon, he was picked up and then taken to the Post Office Building, Fatahillah Park number 3, Taman Sari, West Jakarta. The building is located in the Old City area of Jakarta. “It turned out that my wheelchair had to be assisted by two people, apart from one of my companions to go up the stairs to the 3rd floor, if I'm not mistaken”, he recalls.
The video clip involved four models, one of which was Aal. “(When) the director met me and told me the concept of his video clip, how the song was more about victory more than a campaign. There are different stories of each person's victory," he continued.
For his part, he conveyed his tory about a painter with disabilities who can survive. "Essentially the story is about universal victory," he said.
In simple terms, he said he was happy and proud because he got involved in the making of the music video. "The song‘s lyrics are nice and it was written by Ahmad Dhani, one of my favorite songwriters," he said enthusiastically.
With regard to the issue of disability, Faisal Rusdi also has great concern for this issue and his fellow disabled people. As he has mentioned, he sometimes participated in advocating for disability and accessibility issues with the Jakarta Barrier Free Tourism (JBFT) and the Bandung Independent Living Center (BIlic). Based on the information listed on its Facebook page, JBFT is a tourism activity with people with disabilities as a form of education for all people with disabilities. Held once a month, open to the public, and using public transportation. This tourism activity by JBFT has been started since March 2012.
As for Bilic, BILic is a non-government Difable People Organization (DPO), as cited in their website – Bilic-Indonesia.org, which has the basic concept of the movement of independent living or independence for people with disabilities. This organization was established 17 years ago, on August 23, 2003 and is based in the Antapani area, Bandung City.
I did not pose further questions about Mas Aal's activities both in the communities or organizations. Instead, I asked about his personal perception or views regarding the disability group in Indonesia. For example, regarding acceptance in society, stigma and others.
He believes that the awareness of the government and society is a farcry to fulfilling the rights of disabled people, such as misdoubt their ability to participate in school, work, have a family and others. He also highlighted the availability of accessibility in public infrastructure, transportation, art spaces and others which are still lacking for persons with disabilities.
Still on the issue of disability, I wanted to know his personal hopes regarding the condition or fate of the disabled in Indonesia. For example, will disabled people be empowered? “For people with disabilities, they need the full support from their families. Persons with disabilities must understand their own potential and explore it, and must dare to try. On the other hand, the government must implement all existing laws and involve disabled people in active participations in development,” he said.
In the end, the story of what Faisal Rusdi has done is enough to show or prove that disabled people are able to survive if they have full support from everyone and everywhere, not the other way around such as being judged or stigmatized. One very meaningful sentence that I took note of from him (related to his disability condition) was “You can do that, I can also do it in other ways”. (Karina Eka Dewi Salim, Jakarta, 11 June 2021)