July 31, 2009 / 7:14 AM / 10 years ago

Disabled Filipino artists paint with feet, mouth

CAINTA, Philippines (Reuters Life!) - A diving accident left Jovy Sasutona paralyzed from the neck down when he was 17. But it didn’t dampen his passion to paint.

Sasutona has been painting with his mouth for 24 years, and has mastered the technique, painstakingly burnishing the details of his still lifes. Sometimes he paints from his bed, lying down.

“It’s a big deal, how painting has rebuilt my broken dreams. This is what I love doing, and this is where it all came together,” Sasutona told Reuters Television.

“I can’t deny that I still have personal problems, but they disappear when I paint.”

Sasutona is one of six disabled artists in the Philippine chapter of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA) who make a living painting with their feet or mouth. The AMFPA has 726 members in 74 countries.

AMFPA artists in the Philippines receive a monthly stipend of $460-1,850. The organization commissions their oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings and prints them on greeting cards and calendars.

The artists are hoping to find a bigger market for their paintings, so their association can support more artistically inclined persons with disabilities (PWDs). Their paintings cost 6,500 to 30,000 pesos ($135-625) each.

There are nearly one million PWDs in the Philippines, around 136,000 of whom are either paraplegic, quadriplegic or have lost a limb.

The financial independence the artists enjoy is rare in the Philippines: the money helps them with medical bills as they sometimes need a lot of surgery.

Amado Dulnuan has spent more than two decades as a foot painter, and he was able to build a house and send his two daughters to college, thanks to his stipend.

Born without upper limbs, 52-year-old Dulnuan has grown nimble with his feet. He can move his materials with no assistance.

“With my condition, I think this is the easiest kind of job. The brush is light to use, and you only need your imagination, and your feet,” Dulnuan said.

John Roland Feruelo, the association’s newest member, said he is proud to be a breadwinner. He worked as a draftsman in a mapping agency until a pool accident paralyzed him 20 years ago.

He tried selling fruit and running for township politics, but art is where he found his calling.

“This is how I can continue on despite my suffering. My philosophy is, ‘Whatever it is that we have left, we must enrich’,” he said.

Writing by Sugita Katyal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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