Disability, Poverty and Art
Niyaz Hussain is one of the first especially abled people to create impactful art
On a quiet evening in Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University, 29-year-old Niyaz Hussain is showing a huge steel sculpture that he made in 2015. "I used utensils from my house and scraps that I had saved from here and there," he told The Citizen.
Creating quite a buzz in the artist circle, Hussain is one of the first specially-abled people to create impactful art. A graduate from Jamia Millia Islamia, Hussain's journey was not just bound by his health, the young artist rose from the slums of Delhi to reach this stage.
Hussain is an artist based out of Jamia Nagar in Delhi, and despite his disability, paints large murals. "I was initially fascinated by Van Gough and then the works of Salvador Dali really impacted me," he said, while sitting inside the campus.
He was three-years-old when he got polio (or Poliomyelitis, which is the medical term). "I was three when I lost the strength in my legs. My mother used to take me to school and bring me back. I was bed bound till the age of 15," he added.
In 1993, Hussain developed high fever and a few days later his legs stopped functioning. Coming from a poor background, it was difficult for Hussain to get timely medical care due to which his condition worsened. But in class eight, Hussain found his passion for art and since then he has not gone back.
"I was in a government school, which did not have a lot of amenities. But during art class I started sketching and my teacher appreciated me. Since then, I have not stopped making art," he said smiling.
Hussain has emphasised that his disability did not stop him from pursuing his dreams. He even had a lot of responsibilities being the eldest son of the family.
Once he finished school, Hussain began working to support his family. He sold vegetables at the Okhla mandi with his uncle and earned Rs. 200-250 a day.
He gave his family the money he made in the morning at the mandi and the rest of the day's earnings would go towards buying art supplies. "I enjoyed drawing portraits of workers who took afternoon naps in the mandi," says Hussain.
He briefly worked as a mehendi and tattoo artist and carved designs at a furniture shop.
At 25, in 2015 Hussain enrolled himself in a Fine Arts course at Jamia Millia Islamia. After completing the four-year course, he did freelance painting of murals in and around India Gate, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and the Delhi Golf Course for a private company.
"I was discouraged by my friends who thought I was not capable but my journey has turned out to be completely different," he said.
Hussain lived most of his life in the slums of Delhi's Srinivaspuri due to which people judged him in college. "People said I did not speak well, but that is okay. For me, none of it mattered," he added.
He said that his journey of life started from there and he understood the struggles of trying to live a life. This is the reason he started the organisation Maqaam Foundation to give space for people who do not have the privilege.
"I conduct workshops for people who have economically weaker backgrounds and teach them art. We teach children in slum areas and are trying to expand the same," he said.
While showing his sculpture at Jamia Millia Islamia University's fine arts faculty campus, Hussain said that he has to achieve a lot of goals and want to create a space for artists who do not have support or have weaker backgrounds.
"I have limited time and there is so much work to do. I will not be able to function at all by the age of 40 and would require a wheelchair, till then I want to create art and a platform that might help people like me," he said.
Demotivated by society, especially his extended family, for Hussain his mother is the only strength who told him to never give up.
"My mother has been my biggest strength. She has supported me all the time without hesitation. I am what I am because of her. I was in bed till the age of 15 but after that when I started doing things on my own, she did not let me sit down and pushed me for a better life," he said.
Niyaz now lives with his wife, parents and three younger siblings in a rented flat in Jamia Nagar.
All photographs Ashish Kataria