Karishma Kannan is called "miracle girl" because of the most extraordinary things she has done no one believed a person with Down syndrome could do. She became a talented painter, organizing many exhibitions to support children in Vietnam and the world. She teaches yoga and dance to children with disabilities, in spite of her challenges. "Karishma" in the Indian language means "miracle".
Kannan was born in Chennai, India, in 1991. At four months old, she was found to have Down syndrome, which causes physical and intellectual challenges. She was quickly taken to special schools for early intervention.
The very first years of the artist's life were filled with therapy and exercises. She had undergone many interventions that helped her take her first steps and babble a few words when she was around two years of age. It took her more than three years to chew and swallow soft food on her own.
At the time, Kannan’s resistance was very weak. Just a small change of weather was enough for her parents to worry. Her mother, Kalpana Kannan, said: "She couldn't stand on her own and needed help. Her hips and knees couldn’t stand the weight. Every day we had to massage her."
The mother said that early intervention was key to Karishma's stability. "My husband and I learned how to take care of our little angel. We never gave up and always tried to give her the best. Every family experience was precious."
In the following years, Karishma still had to take medication and special classes to improve her condition. She also developed a passion for the art of dance when the family lived in Chennai. Finding out about this, both Karishma's parents were ecstatic and dedicated to creating a positive environment for their child. In addition, picnics with her family also made her gradually open up and communicate better.
The real turning point occurred when the whole family moved to work in Ho Chi Minh City in 2008. Karishma experienced unforgettable days in what she called her "second home." Unable to apply to school because of language constraints, her parents tried to help her adapt to life in Vietnam. They introduced Karishma to yoga, embroidery, weaving to pottery, and garden care.
She also studied painting with Cyndi Beaumont. It was Beaumont who discovered the potential in Karishma. The teacher was very interested in this student from India. Beaumont introduced art to Karishma in a natural surrounding, exposing her to colors, brushes, and ways to complete a perfect picture.
Karishma seemed to find her own favorite. Day by day, she studied painting with her teacher. For someone with Down syndrome, focusing on painting a picture is incredible. With Karishma, she simply brings miracles to life. She became a painter when she was not yet 20 years old.
With regard to painting, Karishma speaks more, opens up and integrates better. The artist always keeps a smile on her face, and is friendly to all. Her world has expanded through painting. Karishma said: "Like everyone I also have my challenges. I am slow and cannot read and write like everyone else. I can only send my love through art and paintings."
Karishma's paintings are usually landscapes. Sometimes sand dunes in the golden afternoon, colorful flower gardens, sometimes the image of the city reflecting in the peace and quiet of a lake. Her works are free-spirited, filled with love and faith in the good.
In 2015, Karishma's whole family left HCMC and returned to India. She left Vietnam and returned to her hometown to open a yoga, dance and meditation studio – Studio 21UP – to guide children with similar circumstances. Remembering her eight years in Vietnam, Karishma said she can't forget this place. Vietnam is like a second home, giving her the opportunity to discover herself and set important milestones in her life. Because of that, many of her works depict familiar images of HCMC and the poetic landscape of Vietnam.
In 2011, Karishma first held a painting exhibition in HCMC. That year, she just turned 20. In front of art-loving guests who came to enjoy her work, she timidly wore a flowing red ao dai. She couldn't say much, but her eyes were full of happiness when all 45 works were sold out in just one session. Karishma donated the VND230 million collected to support disadvantaged and orphaned children in Vietnam.
Consul General of India Abhay Thakur said at the time: "I was impressed by Karishma's great courage and determination hidden behind her small appearance. I must say she is a great diplomat and a great representative for India in Vietnam."
After that time, Karishma opened two more exhibitions and one auction between 2013 and 2015. Still like the previous time, the Indian girl still chose a long dress to show her special affection for Vietnam. In total, more than 100 paintings were sold after three exhibitions and one auction. The works of the artist have helped light up the lives of many children with heart disease and disabilities in Vietnam.
She shared: "When I was in Vietnam, I always felt at home. I am supported and loved by everyone. Therefore, I am happy to be able to help special children like me."
Vietnam has always been a special memory for Karishma, now based in India. The artist very much looks forward to the day she could return to the S-shaped country. There is always a burning desire in her to continue sharing and helping those in need. "I will be very satisfied if in the future I could continue to open exhibitions in Vietnam," Karishma affirmed.
Karishma's journey to overcome her challenges and create values for the community helped her win two international awards for people with Down syndrome in 2014 and 2018. The artist was also invited to speak at the United Nations headquarters on World Down Syndrome Day 2019.
Karishma continues her special connection with Vietnam by becoming a jury member of the art and writing contest "For a Triumphant Vietnam". Karishma will have a reunion with Pham Phu Ngoc Trai, president of GIBC, also a contest jury member. Trai has accompanied and sponsored Karishma during her exhibitions.
Karishma is no longer the shy girl standing beside her paintings. She is a symbol and a motivation for children suffering from critical diseases who love painting across the country. Karishma bravely battled her challenges and painted miracles as her name suggests.
"I can, you can, we all can" is a message that has been with Karishma for more than 10 years. Accompanying with "For a Triumphant Vietnam", the Indian artist hopes that she can be a trusted partner with children, who are suffering from critical diseases, to overcome all difficulties and misfortunes to achieve better things in life.
The paintings sent to the contest touched the female judge, reminding her of the early days of getting acquainted with painting. "I love nature. I drew my first painting under a tree. It's wonderful to me that my family has given me their full support. Through painting, I can express my feelings. I feel happy," Karishma said.
Karishma hopes that children will also find happiness through colorful brushstrokes. For her, all the works are beautiful and meaningful. "I feel love and faith in children's paintings. It's hard for me to score because it's all great," the artist said.
Through the contest, she also wants to send a message of love. For people with challenges like Karishma, the care, protection, and support of her family is the most precious thing. Family is what gave her the faith and strength to create today's special Karishma.
With "For a Triumphant Vietnam" Karishma believes in a happy future for all. Karishma said with a smile: "Believe in yourself. I can, you can, we all can."
Content: Hoai Phuong - Designer: Hang Trinh