The Jakarta Post
A chronicle of a 12-year-old boy's struggle with dyslexia and the discovery of his talent has been made into a book, and the story is now to be adapted into a movie.
Black and white paintings fill the lobby of the Artotel on Jl. Sunda in Central Jakarta, as if an art exhibition is taking place.
Pop-art illustrations of unique characters ' from a spaceship with huge eyes and a grasshopper with legs for its wheels ' line the walls.
At first glance, they look like the work of a renowned and experienced artist.
However, in reality, the paintings are the creation of Aqil, a 12-year-old boy from Jakarta.
'When I'm in the mood, I can produce one painting in two days,' Aqil says. 'My inspiration comes from reading books, searches on Google and anything related to space and the universe.'
Aqil, who says he is heavily influenced by legendary pop-artist Andy Warhol, has held at least four major exhibitions in Jakarta, and his paintings sell for at least Rp 2.5 million (US$183) per piece.
As an artist, Aqil has also already set a unique trademark for his work.
'They are all in black and white,' he explains.
'I make them like that because the meticulous details make it very hard for me to color them.'
The recognition and success that Aqil enjoys now as a prodigal young artist did not come easy.
His story is one heard often within Indonesian family households that glorify formal and scientific intellectual achievements over artistic expression and talent.
Aqil is the son of Amalia Prabowo, whose family has a strong lineage and pedigree including some of Indonesia's greatest intellectual minds.
'My family considers education and intellectual achievement the top priority. You need to have at least a doctorate degree for them to consider you worthy as a family member,' Amalia said.
While it is clear that Aqil is a brilliant and talented artist, he suffers a condition that makes it hard for him to earn recognition and respect from his mother's family. Aqil suffers from dyslexia, giving him great difficulty in reading, writing and calculating math equations.
'I learned about Aqil's condition when he was seven. The school contacted me and told me that Aqil had a lot of difficulties in class and they suspected he suffered from dyslexia,' Amalia said. 'We then met a psychiatrist and the dyslexia was confirmed.'
Amalia recalled how she dreaded family reunions Aqil after diagnosed with dyslexia.
'During family reunions, all the kids are made to compete in a math quiz by their grandparents to win prizes such as sweets and toys. Because of his dyslexia, Aqil had no chance of winning.'
For a year after the diagnosis, Amalia distanced herself from Aqil, simply because she did not know how to reach out to him.
At that time, Aqil was already in a therapy program to help with his writing. Through this therapy Aqil honed his skill as an artist and learned how to express his feelings through paintings.
'The problem with dyslexia is that it does not allow Aqil to properly connect a letter with its form and patterns. The therapy therefore aimed to familiarize him with patterns,' Amalia said.
'He was asked to draw a lot of circles, boxes and other patterns on a large piece of paper. As time went by, he became bored, so the therapist and I suggested he draw a form or a character first then fill it with patterns to alleviate his boredom.'
Eventually, he began to create characters, hundreds of them, in his paintings. 'Each character was given a name and a story,' she said.
One particular painting made her realize her son needed her by his side.
'In that painting, Aqil drew a character that represented him. Then I asked him 'where is Mommy?' and he said, 'Mommy is nowhere to be found because she always leaves for work,'' Amalia said. 'That was when I learned that Aqil's paintings had opened a way for us to communicate better with one another.'
As Aqil continued his therapy, his paintings grew in number, and their quality rose too.
However, it took a while longer for Amalia to convince her family that Aqil was no less gifted than his cousins during family reunions.
'I began taking his best paintings to be exhibited at reunions but my father still asked me, 'What will he do when he grows up?'' Amalia said.
'As time went by, however, my family began to show more appreciation for Aqil's work. At the very least, they no longer hold a math quiz test the kids nowadays.'
Amalia also realized Aqil wanted to be a painter when he grew up and that she would not do anything to stop him from doing what he loved.
'I will not force him to take on formal education or get a doctorate degree or anything like that,' she said. 'He can do whatever makes him happy and I will support him no matter what.'
Aqil's journey in dealing with dyslexia and finding his talent has been published as a book entitled Wonderful Life.
The book will be adapted into a movie, scheduled to be released in August or September this year, by producer Handoko Hendroyono and director Agus Makkie.
Amalia hopes both the book and the movie will educate other parents of children with special needs on how to deal with their issues in the right way.
'Parents often accuse their kids of being lazy when they have trouble learning at schools. Often, that's not the case. In my experience, every kid just has different talents and their bad marks at schools do not always mean that they are lazy.'
' Photos by JP/Hans David Tampubolon
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