art.icle

CONNECTING THE DEAF AND HEARING WORLD THROUGH ART

by Kelsey Nowlan
April 29, 2021
Meet Sera Kassab, a talented videographer, graphic designer, and graduate of the Fine Arts Program at Concordia University. One look at her Instagram shows her keen eye for colour and ability to display complex emotions through her work.

Sera is also a member of the Deaf community. Born in Lebanon into a hearing family, she struggled to communicate until art became her way of expressing herself.

Join us as we explore her artistic journey and learn more about her work with Seeing Voices Montreal, a group dedicated to building connections between D/deaf* and hearing people.

*(Deaf, hard-of-hearing, orally Deaf, and deafened)
How did you get involved with Seeing Voices Montreal? What have been your biggest takeaways or learnings from being involved with this group?


It started with Jack (Giacomo Volpe) asking me to join the play “Deaf Snow White” as Silly the Dwarf. I refused at first. I then met Jack again when I went to MAB Mackay with my mom. Jack told her about his theatre project and that he asked me to be part of it and I turned it down. My mom was furious with me. She told me, “you should be part of this, you’re a good actor”. I was reluctant, unsure of my abilities as an actor as I had never acted before, but I caved and accepted his offer. After my first experience, I realised that acting was also another artistic way of communication. We all use gestures in our day to day lives to convey an emotion, much as is done in a play. Also, what was unique with this play was that it brought Deaf and hearing actors together on the same stage. To my surprise, it made it easier for me to communicate with hearing people.

I had enjoyed my experience so much, I decided to be part of the group. I wanted to use my artistic skills and be their designer for the next play. And I did exactly that for “Deaf Little Mermaid”.  After these plays, SVM took a different path. Along with the other board members, we decided to use SVM as a bridge between Deaf culture and the hearing world. We set out to work on projects that would get these two worlds closer than ever before. We are now using our platform to expand awareness of Deaf culture to the hearing world, particularly in the medical field, thus increasing accessibility as much as we can to our fellow Deaf people.

The mission statement of Seeing Voices Montreal is to provide educational and collaborative opportunities to build connections between Deaf and hearing people. Growing up, did you feel a disconnect between yourself and hearing people? Did your artwork at all play a role in how you relate and connect to others?


Yes, art did help me a lot growing up. It was my means of communication with my hearing family and the world. It started with me drawing a banana to show my parents I wanted to eat one. I then began using art to show my friends and my teachers what I wanted, like drawing a heart to tell a friend I like them. I attended an oral language school and I did not fare well with it. Also, sometimes miming angered me. I kept using art to communicate until I switched schools and was introduced to sign language. After that, art became my way of expressing my emotions.

What messages/themes do you hope people take away from your artwork?


I always try to convey Deaf awareness through my art. Our languages and our culture are beautiful and should be celebrated. I want people not to be afraid to talk to us and give us a chance to thrive in the community. You would be surprised at what a Deaf person can achieve if they are given the trust and the chance to impress. Also, what I want people to understand is that emotions make up who we are, and we should not be afraid to express them openly and courageously, no matter the situation.  

Of your artwork, which piece are you proudest of and why?


The art piece I am most proud of is called “Emotions”. It is a series of four wooden canvases, each featuring a human posing, and painted in one unified colour scheme. I painted the series following the devastating earthquake aftermath in Haiti on January 12th, 2010. While I am not part of the community, I felt the pain, the rage, the despair, and the sadness of the people there. I chose to reflect on one emotion per painting and represent it with a specific bold color to give it meaning. For me, red is anger and hatred, but also, if channeled right, can be happiness and can allow one to love themself. Blue is sadness and fear, but also the necessary calmness to become strong and brave. Yellow represents someone hiding their pain but is also a way to encourage one to stand up for themself. Green is unsteadiness and despair, but it also allows us to believe in ourselves.

Canton TowerCanton Tower


Everyone that has seen this piece so far cannot help but express the emotions they are bottling up. I was quite taken aback during my last exhibition when someone stood in front of my work and cried. I felt his pain and understood his feelings. He thanked me for making this art piece and said that he felt much better after seeing it. I felt so honoured, touched, and happy to make that person feel better! He did not ask me to interpret the colors and meanings of each of these four canvases; he understood everything on his own. We all have problems and lead difficult, stressful lives. We all struggle with our identities, internally and/or externally. For example: Deaf people, disabled people, LGBTQ people, visible minorities, First Nations people, gender inequality and more.

Have you experienced any moments where you felt that being Deaf, or the lack of resources for Deaf people, would prevent you from following your dreams as an artist? How did you overcome these setbacks?


Yes, I have and still do. There are no resources for Deaf artists. At least, none that I am aware of. I have yet to find a full-time job that will allow me to use my artistic skills fully and provide for myself so I can be independent, just like any other adult would. But I get turned down all the time during my job search, not because of my skills, but because of my deafness and the burden it causes my potential employer. I am not the only Deaf person struggling to find a decent long-term job. Employers turn us away for fear of communication difficulties. There are tools in place, but they don’t want to use them… I almost gave up on my career, but I have a renewed resolve to keep trying until, hopefully, one day I will have that job.

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Are there any misconceptions that people have about you as a Deaf artist that you would like to address and disprove?


Some of these situations happened when I was studying at Concordia. Students were surprised I was enrolled in university. They also questioned my abilities as an artist given that I use my hands to talk. Just because Deaf people lack one of the five senses does not mean that we are completely dysfunctional. Our other senses are heightened and compensate for the lack of hearing. My perception skills are far greater than those of hearing people. I notice things others do not. I disproved every misconception they had about me with my art skills that wowed them. But then again, not all of them were willing to come talk to me and bond over our shared interest in art.

During photography class, we had to use the dark room to produce our work.  I wore bells on my wrists and ankles so that the other students would hear me and not bump into me in the dark corridors. With simple tweaks and twists, we can do the same things… if given the chance.


Knowing what you do now, what advice would you give to your younger self?


To not give up, to not despair. That art is my gift, and I should keep sharing it with the world. That I am strong and capable of doing everything others can do.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To learn more about Seeing Voices Montreal, please visit www.seeingvoicesmontreal.com
To see more of Sera Kassab’s work, follow her on Instagram @ sera.artist
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