Art conquers cancer: Bahraini painter spreads messages of hope, kindness and strength

Dayana Al Shaikh

Dayana Al Shaikh

By Habib Toumi

Manama: Acts of charity are often associated with places of worship, religious groups and homes caring for the orphans, the elderly, the handicapped and the needy.

However, for Dayana Al Shaikh, a Bahraini painter and a multiple cancer fighter, acts of charity can also be linked with art.

“Art is a candid expression of humanity in its beauty and magnificence. It is a manifestation of love that helps people live a vibrant present, confront challenges with confidence and look forward to greater hope, wider opportunities and elating success,” she said.

As a well-established artist, she knew very well the significance of art in people’s lives. And as a woman who had to fight the aggressive onslaught of four types of cancer, she knew very well how cancer patients felt. At one time, she resorted to art to help young patients in their fight with cancer.

Dayana in 2015 organized the “Letters of Hope” exhibition that shed light on her personal experience in fighting cancer with faith through a collection of Arabic calligraphy paintings.

Letters of Hope

Letters of Hope

Dayana was pleased with the tremendous support from all those who visited the exhibition, particularly the information minister, the diplomats, the media and other painters and she generously presented the proceeds from the sale of paintings to the Bahrain-based Child’s Wish Society to support more than 500 children suffering from chronic ailments and other people with special needs.

“Health cases are crucially significant and people with cancer deserve full support. We are proud to have a caring society in Bahrain and acts of charity cover a wide range of fields” the then information minister Isa Al Hammadi said. “But we should not become self-complacent and we should continue to support humanitarian acts and we should involve the largest number of people and institutions” he said.

Al Hammadi added that the great turnout at the exhibition indicated a high level of awareness in Bahraini society.

“The exhibition is a message addressed to all private and public entities as well as to individuals to contribute to charitable causes and to support philanthropic and humanitarian work in line with the teachings of our religion” he said. “Dayana has succeeded in blending art with the message and in linking her work with determination, fortitude and hope. She has added a spiritual dimension and used very expressive words and was able to blend art, philanthropic work and humanitarian deeds in her paintings.”

Tremendous support from family and friends

Tremendous support from family and friends

For Randy McCord, an American teacher, the initiative that gave art a greater dimension than just paintings deserved to be applauded.

“I salute the courage of Dayana in her fight and I pay tribute to her dedication to helping young hearts and minds as they face up to the challenge of cancer, armed with hope and determination” he said.

Dayana said she was overwhelmed by the high level of care and compassion she felt before, during and after the exhibition.

“I have witnessed something truly special about human dedication and compassion and I pray that people will always come together to support noble causes” she said.

In her much-acclaimed biographical account of her discovery of the cancer and her brave fight against it, Dayana explained the significance of art.

“My greatest passion in life was painting. It was an immense pleasure and an amazing refuge from all disorders, messes and confusions,” she wrote in her book.

“Whenever I was painting, time in my mind came to a standstill and I savored the bliss. There were no minutes or seconds to measure time. There were only my colors, brushes and canvases.

“I fell deeply in love with painting at an early age when I spent time admiring how my father, an accomplished artist, was using his fingers to create a world of sweet dreams and good wishes. My eyes were glued to his hands as they turned white canvasses into a deep expression of life. It was pure magic and I was mesmerized.

“I wanted to be like him. I followed very closely everything he did, how he moved every brush, how the canvas slowly became a world of great fantasy or splendid landscape.

“He patiently taught me and showed me how to use colors and how to refine my technique. His devotion and dedication paid off and I was able to learn about fine arts. I soon developed my own style that empowered me to express my ideas and my sentiments.

“I had a strong penchant to paint with water colors and acrylics, but I painted my best artworks with a combination of coffee and chocolate. It was a suggestion from my father and I loved it, especially that he provided me with invaluable guidance and precious advise.

“He encouraged me to take part in several arts exhibitions and I was proud to win several prizes. They were great recognitions of my father’s talents as much as of mine.

“My artworks were the expression of many of my ideas and philosophy in life. A burst of elation and a triumphing joy overtook me whenever I heard that some of these artworks were ornamenting walls in the homes of well-known personalities.

Dayana flaked by her father Ali and her daughter Layal

Dayana flaked by her father Ali and her daughter Layal

“When I knew about my medical condition, I thought that it was time to quit and that I should just surrender and let myself fade out. For fleeting moments, I thought it would be much easier to let everything go and lapse into a state of passiveness, allowing my body to be attacked by cancer. The effects of the medication and especially the chemotherapy sessions were strong enough to push me into pondering giving up all the hobbies and activities that helped built my character and form my identity.

“However, my doctor advised me to keep my activities and recommended that I continue to pursue my interests with the same passion and commitment. His words were enough to shake me out of the torpor that ominously tempted me and I made a pledge not to allow the disease to ruin my vivacious way of life, wreck my love for social life or crush my fun get-togethers with friends.”

Layal's maiden exhibition attracted large numbers of art overs

Layal’s maiden exhibition attracted large numbers of art overs

The commitment to art as an omnipotent message continues with her daughter, Layal, an architecture college student who made her debut on the public arts scene this year, fulfilling, before she turned 19, one of her major dreams – Displaying her artwork in an exhibition open to a highly discerning public in Bahrain.

Layal is genuinely keen on conveying messages to inspire ambitions and embolden dreams, particularly among women who should invariably reflect a deep reflection on the strength and fortitude.

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