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Deaf artist ‘can see what we can’t see’

22-year-old Tedi is nominated for prestigious portrait award after painting impressed judges

06 June, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

Tedi Lena at work

AN artist who is deaf, and communicates silently with sign language, has impressed judges at the prestigious BP Portrait Award.

Tedi Lena, 22, painted a portrait of artist Frank Bowling, a patron of the Hampstead School of Art, whose retrospective exhibition opened at the Tate Britain last week.

Isabel Langtry, principal of the Hampstead School of Art, said: “It is an amazing achievement that Tedi has been selected for the BP Award. It is a testament to what open-door access to specialist education can do, coupled with bursaries and insight.”

Diana Lena, Tedi’s mother, helps interpret for her son.

She said: “Frank was talking at the school two years ago. He was telling students about his life and, meanwhile, Tedi began sketching him. Tedi turned to me and said he just loved his character. All these visuals take effect on him because he is deaf so he can observe better than us. I think visual things help him understand the world – he can see what we can’t see. But Tedi does not want to be seen as a deaf artist. He is an artist, not a deaf artist.”

Tedi’s painting of Frank Bowling

Mr Bowling then sat for his portrait with Tedi at the Hampstead School of Art from September to January this year.

Tedi, who graduated with a first-class degree in Fine Art from the London Metropolitan University last year, said: “On his face you can see a long life. I read a story in his face and I liked his character.

“I feel lucky to be shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award. It is very powerful. I didn’t win a prize but it feels like winning just getting through to the exhibition. It is important to be recognised.”

Tedi was the first student to receive the £7,500 Frank Bowling Bursary at the Hampstead School of Art in 2014. It covered the costs for a foundation course in art which helped him get on to a degree course.

The school also raised £30,000 to support Tedi with a deaf translator and scribe while he studied his Art Foundation course.

Tedi with his mother Diana

“The Hampstead School of Art has given Tedi the world. They are wonderful,” said Ms Lena. “There are lots of deaf artists – it is something that is not unusual. There is support for deaf artists who are employed but there is no support for deaf artists who are unemployed, like Tedi. I work part-time so I can help Tedi and be there when he needs a translator and scribe for him when writing applications for exhibition entries.”

l The BP Portrait Award 2019 is on show from June 13 until October 20 at the National Gallery. 

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