Down syndrome artist evokes smiles

Art October 22, 2015 01:00


Cheerful paintings are a hit as postcards packed with baked sweets are sold online

PAINTINGS BY A 21-year-old woman with Down syndrome are popular in Japan, as shown by the online sale of baked sweets boxed with postcards of her colourful works.

The paintings depicted on the postcards were made by Riko Ogata of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. They portray such things as ayu sweetfish swimming in the Tamagawa River and hanamizuki flowering dogwood.

Ogata started to paint while in primary school. In recent years she’s broadened the range of her activities and has even had exhibitions.

“I’d be glad if my daughter’s attempt to interact with society serves as a source of encouragement for many people,” says Ogata’s 56-year-old mother, Masako.

Ogata started to paint after her mother took her to a drawing class. Her mother had been taking painting lessons, and at the advice of the instructor, Ogata started submitting works to exhibitions while in middle school.

It’s difficult for Ogata to communicate her feelings to others. Still, her mother realised her attitude toward painting became even more positive after she started submitting her works to exhibitions.

“I guess she’s realised there are opportunities for her to express herself in society, while also learning the joy of having her work viewed by many people,” Masako says.

Ogata has recently had solo exhibitions in Tokyo, arranged through introductions by people who’ve seen her work.

Her representative piece has a donkey painted in various colours and cute bears covering a wall. Many of the paintings are characterised by bright hues and smiling animals and people.

Ogata’s paintings fascinated Ayumu Isomura, 48, who runs Gradie Corp, a Tokyo design company. “They have what it takes to give people strength when they look at them,” he says.

So Isomura asked Ogata to design postcards that could be attached to boxes of baked goods. These were to be given to people attending a July ceremony marking the completion of a redevelopment project in the capital.

Those attending the ceremony loved the images, leading to a project to sell sweets with the postcards online. The sweets are baked at a workshop for the physically and mentally disabled. Ogata will receive a portion of the sales proceeds.

“She’s grown up to be a daughter who likes to see people smiling, and I owe it to local residents who have treated her kindly,” Masako says. “I hope she’ll help build a society in which handicapped people can support themselves.”

A box of baked sweets costs 3,980 yen (Bt1,200) from