McLean artist Mame N'Diaye was selected as a winner of a national arts competition held by the Very Special Arts program. VSA was created by Jean Kennedy Smith to acknowledge and showcase young artists with disabilities. N'Diaye has Asperger's syndrome and bipolar disorder.
"My art reveals my future. Art gives power and protection. It's a third eye, and if you use it wisely, it can tell you what life is about," said N'Diaye. She received the Award of Excellence and a $1,000 prize for her juried art work.
N'Diaye has been an artist since she was a young child. Her work is primarily in pen and ink, with a linear style that is maze-like in composition. Recently she has begun incorporating computer graphics into her compositions.
"When I make art, my images just come, just like the images in a crystal ball. You don't know where the images come from, they just come. What comes may be unexpected, and you may not believe what appears," said N'Diaye.
N'Diaye would like to use the money she was awarded to locally expand the opportunity of participating in the arts to people with disabilities. "I'm planning to make my own art business with the money. I want a center in McLean where people with disabilities, for people with disabilities, can come," said N'Diaye. One of the missions of the award is to help finance artists' careers at a juncture when they are deciding whether or not to pursue the arts.
VSA PRESIDENT Soula Antoniou said, "This annual program is a fine example of impacting our constituents in a meaningful way. The more emerging artists with disabilities are encouraged to develop their talents, the more our society will become the rich, vibrant one we all want to live in."
This was the third year that VSA partnered with Volkswagen of America to recognize this special segment of artists in the United States. Steve Keyes, corporate communications director for Volkswagen, said, "As a company that values diversity and inclusion, we look for ways to highlight the extraordinary creativity and talents of young Americans with disabilities." Volkswagen funded the prize amounts for the VSA.
The award ceremony for the 15 finalists in the competition was held on Capitol Hill last Friday, with a banquet at the Rayburn Building attended by members of congress, staffers and dignitaries.
Staffer Cheryl Somers enjoyed the German buffet and toured the exhibit for longer than she had intended. "These are really good. They let you into their world, but in a way that isn't sad," said Somers. The portrait of Vic Chesnutt, an oil by grand-prize winner Sunaura Taylor from Athens, Ga., was described by Somers as "captivating." It's a large portrait of Taylor's friend seated in a wheelchair, in a dark-toned room, with a wistful look on his face.
N'Diaye said the artists represented in the room paint to express themselves as clearly as they can in a world where they are often misunderstood. "I have been teased and made fun of. When you have a disability, they treat you as the disability. I wanted to prove I had some talent, too," said N'Diaye. "In high school, my teachers thought I couldn't do anything because of my disability. This proves them wrong," N'Diaye said.
Each year more than 20,000 calls-for-entry are sent to colleges and high schools encouraging artists between the ages of 16 and 25 to participate in the competition. There were 142 submissions this year with 15 finalists.
The project was founded in 1974 by Smith, and close to five million people with disabilities are involved with VSA programs each year through a national network of programs and an international extension in more than 60 countries worldwide.