How to avoid labels, love yourself and be happy: inspiring life hacks from an artist

In the second part of the interview with British-Ukrainian photographic artist, Alina Kisina, we discussed overcoming prejudice in Ukrainian society, what we can all learn from children with disabilities and how to be in the world in order to be happy.

Which stories led you to working with children, including children with disabilities?

Like everyone, I had the stereotype that you can’t expect much from disabled children but at the first meeting with pupils from the Kiev Residential School No. 11 for Children with Visual Impairments I encountered kids who were independent, full of life and incredibly creative.

Alina Kisina’s photo from the Children of Vision inclusive project

Photo from the Children of Vision inclusive project

It turns out these kids are no different to others and they don’t expect to be pitied. In some ways, they are more self-sufficient than many healthy kids and don't need any special treatment. The pupils were very outgoing and got on well with each other and with their teachers. My preconceived notions evaporated immediately. Kids at the residential school don’t need our condescension – they succeed in music, dance, singing and crafts. They all have colourful and bright personalities.

You said “these aren’t some poor unfortunate kids – there's lots we can learn from them". What can we learn from them?

First of all, their determination and healthy attitude to themselves, the fact that they don’t moan, complain or demand special rights, privileges, accommodation, discounts etc.  They live their life, work towards their goals and reach them.

No pupil at the school expects society to support them financially. They go on to study at universities and colleges in line with their wishes, interests and so on. Not every school for regular children produces these kinds of outcomes.

Alina Kisina’s photo from the Children of Vision inclusive project

Alina Kisina’s photo from the Children of Vision inclusive project

Is there a difference between the creative work produced by disabled children and “normal” kids? We have the Olympics and the Paralympics for physical contests – what about art?

Pupils from the residential school I’ve worked with often take part in competitions alongside regular kids. I’ve been to their singing lessons – they have an incredible  ensemble. The teacher told them to forget that they would be in a special category. She said “You’ll perform just like everyone else. You don’t need excuses. Go out there and put on a performance that blows them away”. The school doesn’t let kids use their disability as a reason to slack off or get special treatment.

Photo by: Alina Kisina

Photo by: Alina Kisina

But if you compare their Petrykivka paintings or rag dolls they make, the crafts they work on with leather and wood… Yes, they might need more time and effort but the result is still incredible.

It might sound banal but it is true that if a child has a weakness it is offset by a talent, an ability that must be discovered and encouraged. Of course parents worry that their child is different. Maybe they feel helpless. But Ukraine has many social education programmes now which teach people to stop being embarrassed about disabilities.

Do you think Ukrainian society is successful in overcoming prejudice?

Every time I visit Kiev, I feel incredible creative energy. Things move fast here. Maybe if you live here it doesn’t feel that way. And, obviously, I have a limited circle of people I am in contact with here. But things move fast for me. In the UK and other countries with more stability and social support certain things take a long time. Here, it's the opposite – there’s lots of experimenting and people are prepared to have a go. That’s why I really like working here.

I also see that there are more and more social programmes aimed at showing that people are different, they have different needs and we shouldn’t make them into victims. People are encouraged to show understanding and curiosity.  I think that’s great!

Photo by: Olya Kushik

Photo by: Olya Kushik

Kiev isn’t necessarily representative of the whole country and we have some way to go when it comes to tackling prejudice. How can Ukrainian society become more tolerant and caring? How do we get rid of labels?

This kind of change always takes time and to make sure things move in the right direction you need a long period of comfort, peace and stability. Confidence in a better tomorrow helps people soften and makes it easier for them to find compassion. But there are people in Ukraine who don't have this and yet they already engage in heroic work to improve the emotional environment in society. Teachers and other staff at the residential school are a good example. They help to create the future you talk about.

Photo by: James Travis. Pupils from the residential school at the Children of Vision inclusive exhibition by Alina Kisina look at photographs and videos in which they are featured

Photo by: James Travis. Pupils from the residential school at the Children of Vision inclusive exhibition by Alina Kisina look at photographs and videos in which they are featured

Alina, let’s wrap up by talking about the big picture. What do you hope to achieve for the future through your work?

To be honest, I don't think about the future - I'm focused on the present moment. My job is to help people open up as much as they can. Maybe someone comes along to a talk where I speak about kids who overcome their challenges and that person walks away understanding that they also have challenges that they can overcome with support. This can happen without me ever meeting them. It could be a child that realises they too can be a photographer. It could be anyone. The aim is to inspire people to express themselves and open up so they can live in harmony with themselves and do what they love.

Photo by: Olya Kushik

Photo by: Olya Kushik

If my workshops or other events help people hear their inner voice – that’s great. I can’t tell them what their inner voice says but I can create the space where they can hear it and understand which way to go. That’s how you build a healthy, happy society – by people doing what’s right for them. In that kind of society money still matters because we live in the material world but the satisfaction we get from work means money is a by-product, not the goal itself. When people live like this and support each other, know themselves, feel content, fulfilled and successful – that’s when you have a healthy society.

Original article translated from Ukrainian:


Read the first part of the interview:

Photographic artist Alina Kisina: “Creativity is incredibly useful for children”

Author: Mariana Bozhevich

Photo by: Olya Kushik, James Travis, Alina Kisina