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Riia Talve, interview by Judy Wong

August 26, 2011

I was really excited by a note from Riia Talve, passed on to me by Judy Wong, Spectrum’s excellent leader who juggles the front desk and helps with many of the workshops we host, and thought we’d make her our site of the month.   It turned out that Judy had already interviewed her for Spectrum’s e-newsletter so I’ll just share that.   There are links to Riia’s sites at the bottom of the page.   Her art is wonderful.   Spectrum Press hopes to partner with Riia in the future.  Aaron

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m the oldest of three children, born at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., in 1985.  I spent the first seven months of my live in the special care nursery.

At birth I wasn`t breathing properly.  I weighed in at 1lb 13 oz.  I lived in an incubator, on oxygen, and experienced a Grade 3 Brain Haemorrhage, which caused my learning disabilities.  As I grew up I began to follow many rituals, where it would feel like something bad is going to happen and I’m totally freaked out and I would do whatever I had to to get rid of the feeling.

Elementary and High School experiences were not good.  Being segregated from “Normal” children, being housed in Social learning rooms, made me feel like an outsider.  I was always put into an integrated art class.  Generally my school experience was determined by others; I never had a say, kind of like being a slave based on their opinions of my abilities.  That bothered me the most.

I sat across the hall from the grade 7 classroom whose students organized and ordered the graduation sweatshirts.  Our class was not included in being allowed to purchase one.  I wrote a letter and the principal was so touched by my letter that he read it to the teachers at a staff meeting.  One of the teachers gave me her t-Shirt.  It didn`t have my signature on it though.

I began drawing at an early age and have continued drawing and painting into adulthood.  My artwork is a reflection of me and my life experiences.  I have had several art showings and have been interviewed by Breakfast Television and Global TV, including local community interviews and solo art showing.

I lived at home with my family until March of this year (2011).  I qualified to move into my new home in Surrey as part of a pilot project between CLBC, BC Housing and Spectrum Society.

The Vancouver Sun featured an article, “Poster girl for handling developmental disabilities“ Thursday, September 30th, 2010.

I attended Emily Carr University of Art and Design, studying painting and fine arts for four years, graduating in 2008.  It was my artwork that qualified me to attend this university.  In art, one of my strengths is my self portraits, a symbolic metaphoric view.  Showing what it is like to experience OCD; also my art allows me to embrace who I am.

In 2005 my story was featured in a publication, “Success Stories from the Frontline, Intellectual Disabilities and Mental Health.”

Presenting my story

I was invited to speak at the Health & Wellbeing in Children, Youth, and Adults with Developmental Disabilities:  Autism, Intellectual Disabilities and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders Conference on October 1st, 2010.   I presented to approximately 100 delegates the closing plenary:  A Life through Images. I received a standing ovation.

I attended the conference, displaying and selling my artwork.

I really enjoy public speaking and I have prepared a presentation that includes both my life story and a selection of artwork.

In June this year I will be speaking to CLBC (Community Living B.C.) staff in Surrey, once again sharing my story.   This will be my third presentation.   Besides my art, I realize that I have story that will inspire people and show them that if you have disabilities that you can do anything.  Look at me!  It is awesome to do the three things I love, art, public speaking and helping others.  People in the mental health community; doctors and nurses tell me that they love my speeches because they learn from my personal experiences that which cannot be learned from a text book.

In March 2007 I was featured in the Infocus newsletter, a monthly newsletter published by the Fraser Health Authority, entitled,” Artist is a shining example of Success Stories from the Frontline”

I had the pleasure to meet Robert Bateman in 2005.  I was able to show him my art portfolio.  He praised my art and presented me with an autographed copy of his 2006 Contest Calendar.  It was a real thrill.

Blue Hat 4

I met Jane Seymour in Victoria in 2009.  I contacted Jane’s web designer requesting a meeting who in turn contacted Jane’s publicist who contacted Jane who agreed to the meeting.    She autographed my copy of “Jane Seymour, Making Yourself at Home“  It was really neat meeting her she is one of the nicest people I`ve met, very down to earth.  Very nice!  We had our own private interview.

One piece of my artwork is displayed at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver and The Canadian Red Cross owns one piece.

Scarlet headband

I learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which allowed me to identify what kinds of thoughts were related to OCD and what thoughts would be considered normal.  This allowed me to have greater control over my feelings and what I did about them.  While I still have OCD it no longer controls every aspect of my daily living.  I can recognize it and most often control the impulses.

I currently have approximately 30 original acrylic paintings and limited edition prints available for sale.  Check out my links below!

Now I`m 25 and what I really would like to do is to continue public speaking, telling my story, show my art, particularly within the mental health field in conferences, hospitals and colleges and university.

Yes, I have been through a lot of stuff.  You can complain about it or do something about it.  I want to make a difference through my art and stories to help others.

If I could change one thing……

It would be to help as many people as I could to give people better insight into what it’s like to have a disability but more importantly how to treat us.  Focus on what we are good at.  It interests me that people in third world countries are not given opportunities.  One day I would like to help people overseas.   Mental health care is a lowest priority in third world countries.   Being able to see a woman who has been through so much would be inspiring and helpful as women with disabilities in these countries are not educated.

I would like to break the stigma of people with disabilities.

People can reach me, see my art, purchase my art and book me to speak at their next convention, lecture, or in-house training at:

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jule Hopkins permalink
    September 2, 2011 1:55 pm

    What a wonderful article and person. Rila is an excellent inspiration to others on how to follow your own path and make life work for you. I admire her strenght and courage. Thanks for sharing her story with us.

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