Sivanh Sibounhueang Defies Disability Odds to Craft Masterpieces

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Sivanh Sibounhueang Defies Disability Odds to Craft Masterpieces
Sivanh Sibounhueang painting on a piece of paper (photo: Vanh LikeDrawing)

Living without arms or legs can be a daunting and life-altering experience for some. Yet, for many people with disabilities, embracing their uniqueness becomes a source of empowerment. Sivanh Sibounhueang, known as “Vanh,” is a prime example. Despite losing both arms due to an accident while working in construction when he was only 16, the now 27-year-old is a passionate artist whose art holds meaning beyond words.

Finding Strength in Creativity

In the halls of high school, Sivanh, like many teenagers, found solace in the strokes of a pencil. Born with every limb intact, his passion for drawing blossomed during those school days. Juggling academics and a part-time gig assisting his father in construction work, little did he know that fate had something unexpected in store.

“It was when I turned 16 when my life changed forever,” reminisces Sivanh, his voice tinged with the weight of memory. “On that day, I was told to carry a bunch of steel,” he recounted. But what began as an ordinary task soon turned into a nightmare as a stray piece of metal met with live electric wires, robbing him of his arms in a flash. “The doctor told me they’d have to cut my arms to prevent the inflammation from getting into my heart,” he added, the memory still vivid after all these years.

With both arms gone in 2012, Sivanh’s world plunged into darkness and despair where thoughts of ending it all kept haunting him. However, thanks to the unwavering support from his family, he managed to recover and build a new life for himself.

“I started doing rehab to get used to living without arms,” he shared, his voice steady with determination. With each passing day and the steady guidance of loved ones, Sivanh began to piece his daily routine back together.

An Unconventional Approach to Painting

As he adjusted to his new reality, Sivanh felt a pull towards his old passion for drawing. 

“I started to seriously learn how to draw through YouTube videos,” he said. “The videos I watched were not specifically made to teach an ‘amputee’ how to draw; they were normal drawing videos. I simply adapted what they taught to the way I draw,” he explained, reflecting on his journey into painting with his foot.

One of Vanh’s work, illustrating the painting of gear 5 Luffy on his client’s shoes

Taking his hobby to a new height, Sivanh turned it into a business opportunity, “I would draw anything the client wanted to be painted on their shoes.” The artist also expressed his gratitude to his friends and family for helping him advertise his work on social media, attracting a steady stream of customers. 

Yet, just as success seemed within reach, the emergence of Covid-19 presented a new challenge. “With the arrival of the coronavirus, I felt like what I did would not be enough to cover my living expenses due to the economic downturn, so I had to think of something else to step up my game,” Sivanh said.

Over four years of relentless practice, Sivanh mastered his new technique, fashioning an improvised tool from a car tire’s armband and a paintbrush. It was then when he initiated painting on canvas.

With renewed determination, the 27-year-old pivoted his approach, harnessing what remained of his arms to further refine his craft. “Drawing with my foot is good and all, but to take the details to the next level, I had to draw with my arm,” the painter explained. 

Art Beyond Boundaries

After successfully crafting several paintings, Sivanh decided to auction them off. Among his creations was a piece depicting a goat clad in a prisoner uniform, seemingly captured in a mugshot, which won an auction of LAK 3.1 million (USD 146.91). 

A goat prisoner (photo: Vanh LikeDrawing)

 

“As weird as it is, the goat here represents us humans. We sometimes get blamed for something that we are not even responsible for,” he explained, indicating that the goat actually represented  a “scapegoat.” He emphasizes the concept creation process, highlighting the importance of conceptualization before translating ideas into canvas

This translated into another famous piece of his, displaying two chickens engaged in a fierce battle to protect their respective territories against a backdrop of black borders. The artist attributed the piece’s meaning to the fighting spirit of chickens, which symbolizes resilience and perseverance.

Chicken battle (Vanh LikeDrawing)

He emphasized how chickens never give up without a fight. He also explained that the black gradient surrounding the scene represents the inevitable void awaiting the defeated.

His artwork garnered recognition beyond Laos in January this year when Maybank, a Malaysian universal bank, handpicked him to represent the Lao Disabled People’s Association (LDPA) and exhibit his creations in Malaysia.

“It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as an artist. The reception was extremely positive,” Sivanh said, explaining that he received many compliments, and some of his artworks were purchased as well.

Through his art, Sivanh not only expresses himself but also advocates for those with disabilities, showing that with determination and creativity, one can overcome any obstacle.