From detesting her hearing aids to creating art as an ode to them, the young graphics designer, who was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of one, tells us what it takes to create a life full of purpose
Different treatment doesn’t always have to be explicit. It may not always be obvious enough to be called out as discrimination or turned into a hashtag protest or lead to cancel culture. It can also happen at a subliminal level — where one doesn’t intend to judge but makes implicit adjustments to their behaviour that communicate a body language that non-verbally does the job for them. Defined as implicit bias, these unconscious beliefs can often be as detrimental — if not more — to the growth of an individual. Dima Antar, 26, who was diagnosed with hearing impairment at the tender age of one, has since spent her life addressing and contesting the implicit bias she has been subjected to throughout her life. “I’ve never faced direct discrimination but somehow, I always felt like I was treated differently because of my case,” Antar mentions. “Especially when my friends or people my age were given opportunities to build their career and achieve their goals, while I was somehow excluded from those conversations and had to chase my dreams twice as hard,” she adds.
The Lebanese artist, born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, felt excluded from conversations so she decided to start her own ones — through a mix of art and social media. Currently working as a graphic designer, Antar also uses her Instagram (@dima_antar) to raise awareness around her challenges as a person of determination, to create a more inclusive environment for people facing similar battles.
Recounting her formative years, Antar mentions, “As a hearing-impaired girl, my early years were challenging. Teachers and students at my school didn’t know how to communicate with me as a hearing-impaired child. My mum used to stay with me in class to assist teachers.” Early childhood for Antar included speech therapy, hearing training and other activities that helped her hearing abilities. On the emotional front though, it continued to be a hard-fought battle for the young artist. Being inherently reclusive, Antar found it hard to make friends. “This left me with a lingering feeling of sadness. My family, especially my mum, tried their best to make sure I feel loved and never lonely,” she adds.
Antar with her mother
Although Antar was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of one, it was only at the age of four that she realised she had a special condition. “When I started meeting friends at school, I noticed I was the only one in my class wearing hearing aids.” Developing a problematic relationship with the medical equipment she most needed at the time, Antar mentions, “I used to throw them away because each time I’d put them on, it would immediately draw attention on how I was different from the others.” Gradually, Antar’s mother made her more open to the idea of accepting help. “My mum slowly convinced me that it was for my own good. She helped me accept myself and love the fact that I had hearing aids. It finally became my choice to wear it.”
The young artist’s journey, growing up with a life-altering disability has been filled with ups and downs, all of which translate into the artwork she creates. “It’s not been easy at all. Being someone who’s always needed special care and assistance, it automatically draws a lot of unwanted attention towards you,” says Antar, acknowledging that while these were necessary measures to cater to her learning requirements, it instilled a deep-rooted sense of segregation within her. “I was always a straight A student but things started to change when I was 13,” Antar mentions. “I was being bullied by many students and was left alone with no help. Those were the most difficult years of my life. I used to hide my ears with my hair straight down by my face to cover my hearing aids. I never felt good in my own skin. I was embarrassed someone might see my hearing aids and figure out my truth.”
However, things changed for Antar once she began university. “We had to do a project and I decided to share my story with everyone.” It sometimes takes a showcase on stage to acknowledge what we fail to take notice of amid the hustle and bustle of our everyday life. Sharing her story in front of an audience made Antar feel accepted and included in ways she hadn’t being part of a crowd. “When I chose hearing loss as a topic, every one in class was shocked as they never thought I would ever share my story,” says Antar. It took going up on the stage and being open and honest about her struggles for Antar to not only change the minds of her peers but also her own.
“That’s when I took the decision to overcome my shyness and speak my truth confidently. I turned to social media, mainly Instagram, to spread awareness on how to help people with disabilities,” says Antar, who regularly creates posts for change on social media to paint — both literally and figuratively — a more inclusive picture for people of determination.
When asked when her interest in art and graphic design take root, she responds, “Growing up, I was always passionate about art; always interested in creating. From elementary school through high school, I took a series of independent art lessons where I was able to experiment and learn with different media, materials and techniques. It’s where I realised that graphic design was my passion.”
As a hearing-impaired person, Antar relies on visual modes of communication to express herself. “Art is a form of communication without saying a word. Art to me became a way of self-expression. A way for me to communicate everything I feel visually,” adds Antar, who was recently awarded for delivering a talk at American University of Beirut Summit 2022 for being an inspiration to others.
When you look at Antar’s Instagram profile, you can see a burst of colourful graphics juxtaposed with portraits of herself, breathing in a sense of positivity and liberation, a attitude that stems from the many years of work the artist has put in, to nurture positive self-image and mental health. I express how I feel in form of art. “I communicate through my art work. The colours I use in my artwork express what I am going through. The use of colours and different shapes, all play a big role in the way I communicate through my art,” says Antar.
Although Antar now finds herself in a creatively fulfilling and thriving space, she does believe there’s room for a lot more inclusivity in society. Inclusivity as defined by her “is a sense of belonging, while feeling respected and valued,” aspects she once found missing in her own life. “People of determination should be included in groups and let their voices be heard. They shouldn’t silence themselves before anyone else attempts to. Equally, people should also learn to listen without judging and be open to new ideas and topics. Just because something is done differently, doesn’t make it wrong,” the young artist signs off.