Spirit of Hong Kong 2014

Spirit of Hong Kong

For one cerebral palsy sufferer, doing art is the best medicine

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 May, 2015, 12:35pm

On the table at a rehabilitation hospital in Wong Chuk Hang, near Aberdeen, lies a crayon drawing of the Statue of Liberty. It's an impressive piece of art. The viewer sees her reaching up with her torch, from the perspective of the statue's stomach.

The work, sketched by Cheung Ka-cheung, exemplifies his favourite topic: freedom. These days, Cheung, 56, is confined to a wheelchair and grows weaker from cerebral palsy. He likes to paint vibrant images of birds as well - revelling in the idea that he can fly away and travel without constraints.

Cheung's speech is quite limited, but his communication skills have developed in other ways since he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. He grins readily when meeting someone new, and he can write down parts of his own story.

One of four children, Cheung, 56, attended a special needs school in Wong Tai Sin. His younger sister, Cheung Mei-ling, said he had a miserable few years, taunted by other children. His family encouraged him.

"When he was 12 years old," she said, "he developed a talent for table tennis. He would meet friends at a church group and practise" alone.

Those with cerebral palsy suffer involuntary muscle spasms. To train, he had to control the muscles down the arm.

When he’s painting he’s so absorbed that it takes the pain away

Cheung played initially with his friends. With an aggressive swing, as his sister described it, he participated in the Seoul Paralympics in 1988 and several regional and local sports competitions. That's when he was still able to stand and walk to a limited extent. But as his falls became more frequent, he had to stop.

His sister displays a photo of Cheung standing in a tracksuit in 1998, on his last day of playing, "before he knew he would be in a wheelchair."

He and his sister have just returned from Los Angeles, where they took part in an art exhibition run jointly by Hong Kong and Los Angeles organisations for artists with disabilities and organised by charity the Chinese Parents Association for the Disabled.

Cheung lives and paints at Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Jockey Club Kin Yat Home in Aberdeen. Sometimes, he visits his sister on weekends. Both practicing Christians, they sing a rendition of Amazing Grace in Chinese. Cheung's faith has helped him cope with disability.

In his artwork, Cheung uses a variety of methods including pencil, crayon and acrylics. He takes part in a three-year course organised by Lingnan University that is taught at the centre. He's in the second year along with other elderly or disabled artists and his work has grown, said Gigi Leung Ching-wan, the art development officer at the Jockey Club Rehabilitation Complex.

The courses have exposed him to art history and movements such as cubism and expressionism. He's sold several of his works.

Cheung would like to teach art to children, Leung said, and he is working towards that goal.

In the meantime he continues physical therapy that includes work in a swimming pool to relieve his pain, social worker Fion Luk Mei-fong said.

"But when he's painting he's so absorbed that it takes the pain away. And that night he sleeps so well from the exertion but also from doing something that he finds so fulfilling."