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June 4, 2011

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Angelic artworks display the colorful beauty of life

AT the first sight of the colorful artworks at the "Angels Among Us" exhibition, viewers are greatly impressed by the passion and optimism of the artists. But few might realize they are actually created by mentally challenged children from special education schools and Sunshine Homes (education centers especially for mentally challenged children) in six districts in Shanghai.

The five-day exhibition, for which Shanghai Daily is the media sponsor, runs until tomorrow at Liu Haisu Art Museum (1660 Hongqiao Road) and features up to 50 children's paintings in various styles including watercolor, pastel drawing, Chinese brush drawing and Jinshan peasant painting.

The exhibition is the first event by the Dandelion Project launched by Shanghai H&Y European Cultural Exchange Center (HYECEC), in cooperation with the Shanghai Disabled Person's Federation.

The founder of both HYECEC and the Dandelion Project is 28-year-old Shanghainese Chai Weiwen.

Chai studied in Ireland and majored in Finance. She used to work in the financial field, but soon transferred to cultural exchange and charity. At the beginning of this year, she started her career in charity by founding HYECEC and launching the Dandelion Project.

"During my studies in Ireland, I worked in some charity organizations to help the Chinese community there as my part-time job," Chai notes.

The current Dandelion Plan team has only five members including Chai. "It's our first event and we met many difficulties during the preparation, but we got over them," says Chai.

The preparation for this exhibition took them less then three months to complete. Finally 46 paintings were displayed, and all of them were collected from special education schools in six districts.

The process of collecting is not as easy as it looked. "Selecting works which were recommended by the teachers, we then had to get permission to display them and information about the students," Chai says.

(The intellectually challenged students need special protection from the public, such as keeping their names and schools anonymous. Chai and her colleagues made huge efforts to get the agreement of parents and teachers.)

"The power of the individual is tiny. We can achieve something only with the efforts of the group and full communication with society," says Chai when she talked about the preparation.

"The exhibition shows a colorful art world as seen through the eyes of those children, presenting their passion for life and desires for beauty," says Zhou Xinjian, chairman of Shanghai Disabled Person's Federation, the event's other co-organizer. "We do believe that love can create miracles."

Some videos shot at Pudong Special Education School are being screened to the public for the first time at the exhibition, recording daily life in the school, as well as the efforts of teachers and students.

"From the videos some very touching moments will be seen, not merely the pure smiles of those children, but also the teachers who contribute a lot to special education," says Yang Lei, one of the cofounders of the Dandelion Project.

Zhou Hui, vice president of Pudong Special Education School, came to the opening ceremony of the exhibition, together with her colleagues and students whose paintings are featured.

She has more than 20 years of experience in special education and joined Pudong Special Education School when it was founded in 2002. Now the school has 300 special students including those with intellectual disabilities and brain damage, and deaf-mute children. Zhou Hui has special emotions for these children.

"I believe when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window," says she. "People with intellectual disabilities often struggle with everyday tasks that the rest of us take for granted including speaking and writing. But when it comes to communicating through art, there are no such barriers. Theirs is an honest response to beauty as they understand it, see it and sense it."

The exhibition is supposed to raise money by selling the artworks. If they can raise enough money, a foundation will be built under the Disabled Person's Federation to contribute to the education of those children who need help.

"Sometimes people think the family of intellectually disabled children need financial support most, but what they don't know is that they need more help from the heart - respect and encouragement are even more important than money," says Chai.

More information about the Dandelion Project is available at


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