Nompilo Nkomo: When Disability Meets Talent

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By Sharleen Mohammed

DISABLED people have often use art to express their feelings about the world and their place in it.

Some disabled people have been all too aware of their disabilities and the way it has influenced or affected their artwork.

Great art has been produced by artists with all manner of disabilities, proving that disability does not have to hold back anyone with a creative spirit and more importantly, that anyone can be an artist.

But unlike most artists, Nompilo Nkomo – a Bulawayo-based painter – has adapted to a unique way of plying her trade.

With a limited range of movement due to multiple disability, Nompilo uses her left foot in all her exhilarating paintworks.

She was born with deformed arms and legs and suffers.

As if that is enough, she has difficulties with her speech and still finds strength to pursue her passion of becoming an artist.

Nompilo, whose name literally translates to “mother of life”, was born with clubfoot and clubhands.

This inspiring artist creates stunningly colourful paintings, a mauve of purple, yellow, blue and white.

She paints humans, animals and flowers.

He eyes positively shined with enthusiasm as she greeted a team from the United Kingdom that had visited Zimbabwe to seeking opportunities to help improve its tourism sector.

The team, consisting of Dr Fellitious Mujaidi, Garikai Mushambadope and Zanzile Dube, were on a nationwide tour of he country’s tourist resort.

Their tour included a stop at  Kombisi Village turned into, turned into an exhilarating resort by an old villager with excellent hospitality skills.

Nimpilo says despite her afflictions, she found a way to showcase her talent through foot painting to communicate with the world.

For Nompilo, painting with toes is the norm, but for neuroscientists, the artistic hobby presents an opportunity to understand how the brain can adapt to different physical experiences.

Since she had been part of brain imaging studies at Mzilikazi Art and Craft training before, the defined toe maps didn’t come as a surprise to her family, friends, caregivers.

According to medical experts, babies born with clubhands have a hand that turns inward, causing a limited range of motion at the wrist.

As a result, a child with the condition may have trouble performing tasks that require his or her hands.

Clubfoot describes a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth, in which a baby’s foot is twisted out of shape or position.

While many of her kind have resigned to begging and given to a life of clemence, Nompilo says she doe not want anyone to feel sorry for her.

She says she is leading a normal happy life like everyone else.

“Do not feel sorry for me because my disabilities do not define my life. Our culture is such that if you do not look like people in magazines and in movies, it is assumed you have a sad life. I am a Christian, a woman, a sister and an aunt,” Nompilo.

“My life is not so different from other women; I am living it to its fullest,” she declared.

Brian Zulu, who has been a caregiver to Nompilo since her parents demise said: “She is a brilliant woman and why wouldn’t anyone want to buy her painting with such amazing pictures?”

“Of course, none of this would be possible without her parents. Sadly, they both passed away when she was relatively young. Nompilo grew up in a time when expectations were not too high for someone with a severe disability. Yet there was never a question that she might not go to college, just like every other girl of her age,” said Brian.

Brian prioritises working with people who are living with disabilities with the goal bringing the best out of them.

He said: “A lot of companies shy away from hiring candidates with disabilities in part because they are not sure what those employees will need to do the job. Employers imagine they will have to buy expensive equipment or adapt their office space, but the reality is quite different.”

Walking into Nompilo’s gallery, one might not believe that the art pieces were created by toes.

According to the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability, one-fifth of them significant.