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Hearing Impaired Student Uses Art to Cross Borders


Nikeel Iyer was born in India with a hearing impairment. Throughout his life, he has never used sign language to communicate with others. Instead, he relied on his hearing aids to help him hear, learn, lipread and communicate orally in English since his childhood in New Delhi, India. When it comes to self-expression, Iyer uses artwork as an outlet to get his idea across. Today, his talent has helped him study in the United States and set up a viable career option for himself.

Nikheel studied Animation and Gaming Technology in Gurgaon, Haryana, after completing his high school education in New Delhi. Following that, he enrolled at New York City’s famed Parson’s School of Design. In 2019, he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. Still residing in New York today, he is currently pursuing additional advanced art certification classes.

“It has been a long and arduous journey filled with challenges and hard work, especially as a disabled student,” Iyer says. “I have learned a lot and continue to learn new life lessons every day.”

Nikheel believes that these educational opportunities have taught him a lot, and he continues to acquire new life lessons every day. Iyer has experienced a range of problems as a disabled student, and because of his circumstances, he has had to work harder than other students. He was not only a deaf student trying to learn among hearing classmates, but he was also navigating a cultural change from India to America.

“Communication with the hearing world has always been a bit of a challenge for me,” he explains. “That’s especially due to the diversity of accents and pronunciation styles different from mine, but I have figured out my own ways and means to deal with that. My art is my link to the world.”

Neo-Expressionism, Pop Art, and Conceptual Art are among Iyer’s favorite genres. Because of his various identities as a disabled, Indian, millennial artist who relies on technology in his day-to-day life, he tends to fuse traditional painting with digital imagery . Along with his cultural and personal background, his interests in animation and comic art have resulted in a distinctly different creative expression.

“In my solitary world, I explore the conflict of the individual versus the community, and the self versus the cosmos, in myriad ways,” he explains. “I see the world in various hues and shades depending on whether I am in silence or noise.”

Human emotions, strengths, and vulnerabilities are central to Iyer’s themes. His work also digs into the varied identities that threaten to emerge from the human psyche. All of this ties back to his personal experiences.

“My achievements and my struggles make for a whole host of questions, fears, doubts, anxieties, and opinions,” he says. “Some of my work looks at intelligence colliding with rage and frustration, and the lack of meaningful human interactions and fulfilling bonds, as experienced in my life.”

Nikheel considers art to be an excellent medium for expressing his life experiences. He hopes to one day be a self-employed artist whose work will resonate with people who share his feelings. In the same way that he uses cell phones, Facetime, transcription services, and voice-to-text systems on a daily basis, painting provides a powerful and creative medium for him to communicate with people.

“Art is a tool that transcends all barriers of communication, language, culture, and vocabulary,” he says. “It is here to stay, now and forever, waiting to be explored and expanded to greater heights and depths of human emotions and experiences. Human angst and universal issues of the self and our cosmos, all need expression in unique ways every day.”

Despite his struggles, Iyer sees his life as one that has been successful. He has overcome his disability to gain a prestigious education in a country that he is not from and has so much more that he plans on achieving in his life. When asked about what he has already been able to achieve in his life, he was able to reflect on how much he has overcome to reach where he is today.

“Success, for me, is the ability to confront and deal inventively with the obstacles that come my way,” he expresses. “Success lies in finding ways out of a labyrinth of hazy issues in a strange world. Success is knowing I am different and rising up like a phoenix out of my own burnt remains. Deafness usually means that you grow up with zero language. Yet, the fact that I can answer this question here in my own words, is a measure of success for me.”

Iyer’s ascension is far from complete, since he still needs to finish his studies and his painting career is only getting started. He aspires to engage creative, imaginative, and innovative audiences and art aficionados in the future to help him grow in his trade, building on the solid foundation he has already set.