NEW YORK – Shoko Kanazawa, an acclaimed calligrapher and disability rights advocate, on Friday conveyed an inspirational message of hope through her accomplishments at a day-long event commemorating World Down Syndrome day at the United Nations.
The 29-year-old explained how she took up calligraphy at age 5 and faced numerous obstacles. She eventually overcame them with the help of her mother Yasuko, now 71, to whom she made a moving tribute in an open letter during the presentation.
“Thank you for teaching me calligraphy,” she said in front of a packed audience of several hundred people with her mother sitting in front.
In a film clip, the young girl recalled walking along railroad tracks with her mother to learn about concepts fundamental to calligraphy, such as parallel lines.
Gaining acclaim at 20 for her first exhibition at a gallery in Japan, Kanazawa has displayed her work around the country including temples in Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Despite her initial frustrations, Kanazawa never gave up and now has her own students.
“Now I can do anything,” she said. She also expressed hope that her work will “cheer (people) up and give them happiness.”
As Kanazawa approaches her 30th birthday, she is hopeful of eventually moving into her own apartment near Tokyo Disneyland.
Kanazawa joined a panel that included a 21-year-old from Beijing who starred in a documentary and aspires to become a baker, a Colombian-born entrepreneur living in Canada, and an American who pushed hard for the passage of landmark legislation that has since been adopted in several states.
“It was moving,” said Monica Cuskelly, a University of Queensland associate professor, said, referring to Kanazawa’s presentation. “I think the value primarily is that this (U.N. program) shows people that there are enormous possibilities for people with Down syndrome.
“Today World Down Syndrome Day allows us to come together as a Down syndrome community from across the globe to celebrate not only the accomplishments and milestones of individuals with Down syndrome but also gives us an opportunity to talk about all the other things we need to accomplish as a society,” Sara Hart Weir, the National Down Syndrome Society’s president, said.