Young Asian Creatives Face Opportunities

Two years ago, disabled Indonesian painter Faisal Rusdi was readying to apply for a spouse-visa to accompany his wife while she studied in Australia, but to do so, he was required to submit a proposal on what exactly he would be doing to support himself while in the country.

“I am disabled person, and I was not allowed to bring my personal assistant with me because he was underage at the time,” Rusdi, who has cerebral palsy and whose wife is also disabled, said.

“So I had to find a way to prove that I was going to be independent and would not be a burden on the Australian Government.”

Rusdi’s proposal was a pledge that he would use his artistic talents to contribute to the local culture and society — his application was accepted, and Rusdi lived up to that pledge.

Last November, Rusdi held his first-ever solo exhibition titled The Colour of Journey at the West Torrens Auditorium Gallery in Adelaide.

Faisal Rusdi paints with his mouth as his wife Cucu Saidah looks on.

The exhibit featured over 20 paintings of Rusdi’s original work, the majority of which portrayed his life experiences and struggles as a person living with a disability in Australia — the accomplishment marked a dream come true for the Indonesian painter.

“I have been dreaming of having my own solo exhibition ever since I was a young artist in Indonesia,” Rusdi said.

A painting by Faisal Rusdi called Reincarnation Oil..

“At first, I found it’s very difficult to feature my work in Australia, let alone a hold my own solo exhibition, because it just seemed that [local curators and galleries] prioritised Australian disabled artists.”

However, Rusdi believes he had a fateful change of luck when he met the owner of the property that he was renting — coincidentally, the owner was also an artist who happened to be running solo exhibitions.

“Straight away, I directly asked him how to run my own solo exhibition, and he said he knew a guy at the West Torrens Auditorium Gallery in Adelaide,” Rusdi happily recalls.

“Not long after, the gallery contacted me, received my proposal, approved it, provided a space at the gallery, and prepared and published catalogues of my exhibit, all free of charge.”

But with time now running out, Rusdi said he had less than four months to prepare his grand debut. To meet the challenge, he had to paint nearly every single day from sunrise to sunset with only a short break for a meal.

“It was winter in Adelaide, so I had to wrap my body with a blanket while lying on the floor supported by my elbows, which were getting more sore by the day”, he said.

Rusdi mostly uses the dot technique — similar to Aboriginal paintings — with oil paint on canvas to painstakingly completely his works.

“Do not be amazed that I paint with my mouth, but instead enjoy and appreciate my work.”

The exhibit was a huge success with over half of the paintings sold, and as a result, Rusdi said he felt validated beyond belief and learned that persistence and hard work is everything, and that if he continued to work hard and push, it would open up many doors and opportunities for him.

Rusdi and his wife are set to return to Indonesia by next year, and following his experiences in Australia, he said he was determined to increase his advocating for the rights of disabled people and create programs to help others realise their dreams.