The power of art

The artists of the Mouth & Foot Painters Association are transforming their lives in fulfilling and beautiful ways

For more than 50 years, the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA), a worldwide organisation, has supported artists who, owing to a disability or illness, have created works of art using their mouth or feet. The Association helps them find a market and gives them a base from which to work – and thus to support themselves. It represents some 800 artists in about 74 countries.

Anton van den Berg with his wife, Gretel.

The South African branch has been in operation since 1958. Rolling Inspiration meets two of its artists…

Martin Charl Sodoms
‘I was born in 1974 in Hermanus and grew up in Genadendal, the oldest mission in South Africa. I worked as a medical clerk until, in 1996, I broke my neck in a diving accident, damaging my 5th and 6th vertebrae and permanently injuring my spinal cord.

One of Anton’s artworks.

After my rehabilitation I was introduced to mouth-painting by Martie Westraadt, a local artist. In 2002 I was accepted as a student artist with the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World and exhibited for the first time at Bellville Art Centre.

As a member of the QuadPara Association of South Africa, I exhibit my work annually, along with other mouth and foot painting artists. My work has been widely reported in the media – the press, TV programmes, radio interviews…

Along with two other Association student artists, I help arrange exhibitions and promote the local and international associations. People love seeing us paint in public; it inspires us and in turn they can see whom they’re supporting!

Anton at a painting demonstration.

As for my accident, I don’t have any regrets. I live a more fulfilled and effective life; I’m a proud father to a beautiful teenage daughter; and I try to live positively not just for myself, but for my family and other people I meet. I love sports, especially rugby, and I’m an accomplished blow darts player.’

Martin Charl Sodoms at work.

Anton van den Berg
‘In 1992, when I was 23, I dived into the swimming pool at my girlfriend’s house and broke my spinal cord, becoming a C5/C6 quadriplegic for life. When I went to live at Lat Wiel, a home for people with disabilities in Pretoria, I met some mouth painters and was encouraged to start painting too.

In 1998 I received a scholarship from the Association of Mouth and Foot Painters. Painting gave me freedom to express myself: how I feel, think and live as an artist in our community. In 2009 I met a wonderful woman, Gretel Brits, and I moved in with her and her two sons. We got married in 2010 and have been together ever since.

I love to work in oils: I paint landscapes, seascapes and anything that’s beautiful. I exhibit and sell my work to schools, churches, hospitals and festivals.

So many doors closed because of my injury, such as sport, but many other doors opened to give me the opportunity to become someone again. I’m deeply grateful to the Association: it gave me a purpose in life again; it completely changed my life.’

QASA hosted the quadriplegic, paraplegic and mouth painters art exhibition at the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, from September 11 to 13.

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