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From Artist To Disability Rights Activist, A Look At Safiya Al Bahlani From Oman

Safiya Al Bahlani has many titles to her name: an artist, a creative designer, a motivational speaker, an activist. At just 35 years of age, Al Bahlani is a woman with many achievements that easily inspire, and to know her life story is to be even more awed by her determination and fortitude.

Al Bahlani was born in Oman in 1986, a child with multiple physical disabilities, from short forearms and no hands, to a deformed left knee and a short right leg stump. At the age of three, she was adopted by Sabah al Bahlani, a single mother who was working at Oman’s Ministry of Health at the time, within a program to educate parents about children with disabilities.

After concluding her term at the Ministry, Al Bahlani headed to the United States to continue her studies and took little Safiya with her. There, the young child, who was totally deaf in one ear and had speech difficulties, was given intense speech therapy and underwent surgery to allow her to wear a prosthetic.

Back in Oman, Al Bahlani discovered her love for arts in school, excelling class after class, until the age of 14, she came to conclusion that art was what she wanted to pursue as a career. She graduated from the American International School of Muscat, and then pursued a degree to graphic design. She then switched to animation while continuing to paint at home, eventually showcasing 38 art pieces, that she created during her first three years back in Oman, at a solo exhibition in 2010.

Upon graduating, Al Bahlani faced a discriminatory job market but the young artist did not let that stop her. She decided to use her art to advocate for people with special needs, partnering with an Omani fashion designer to merge her paintings into 20 dress designs, resulting in an art exhibition and fashion show. She also went on to become a motivational speaker, speaking at schools and companies, and in three TEDx talks.

Today, Al Bahlani runs an art studio and a community gallery called Safiya Arts Gallery, described on its LinkedIn page as a “space that provides a platform for local art and creativity. The gallery seeks to showcase Oman and it's [sic] endless stories through various possibilities in art.”

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