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UEL photography student says her deafness makes her see the world more clearly 

Lalita Gurung showcases photography project on the plight of widows in her native Nepal

A University of East London (UEL) student who is exhibiting her remarkable final-year photography project this week believes being deaf since childhood has helped her see the world more clearly.

Lalita Gurung (pictured), who moved to the UK from her native Nepal in 2006, will be showing her arresting project on the plight of of Nepalese widows as part of UEL's end-of-year show, Cascade, in Spitalfields.

And the 31-year-old is in no doubt that her gift for photography is inextricably linked to her deafness by heightening her other senses.

“Being deaf has made me more visual,” she says. “It’s made me more aware of colour, emotions, materials, facial expressions, touch and smell.”

Lalita was born to Nepalese parents in Brunei, where her father was working for the Brigade of Gurkhas.

She explains: “When I was about eight months old I got meningitis, which caused me to lose my hearing. My parents struggled to find a school for me, so they returned to Nepal.” 

She was finally able to get the education she needed when, aged seven, she began attending a school for children with hearing problems. 

She and her two brothers were raised by their grandmother while their parents lived in Hong Kong, working to earn money to send back home for the children.

“I left Nepal with my parents and two brothers and moved to London in 2006,” says Lalita. “I wanted to go to college straight away but my parents didn't know how to access services for deaf and disabled people.

“A social worker helped me with some courses to learn British Sign Language and to develop a life plan around education and careers.”

Having learned to sign, giving her more independence and the skills needed to communicate, she completed four years of college before gaining a place at UEL to study for a degree in photography.

“A photography friend of mine got me interested in the field. She invited me to a show of her photography and it sparked my curiosity,” she says.

A further trip with a friend to The Photographers’ Gallery in central London sealed Lalita’s dream of becoming a photographer.

She and her fellow UEL final-year students are showing their work at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane as part of the month-long Free Range exhibition.

“I chose the topic of widows in Nepal because some of my relatives have experienced the harder side of life for these widows,” says Lalita. “Although now things are changing for the better, there is still a lot of injustice. 

“The large number of widows has increased due to wars, the recent earthquake, and illnesses that arose following it.

“So, I wanted to use my final-year project to tell the stories of these widows using a series of photos which I’ve called ‘White turns to Red’.”

The type of Hinduism practised in Nepal forbids widows from wearing red. Last year, a group of Nepalese widows launched a campaign called the Red Colour Movement, which aims, among other others, to give widows the right to wear colourful clothing, including red.

“I haven't been able to visit to Nepal since I came to the UK, but I would love to go back and visit family and old friends, and see how things have changed for them and widows since I lived there,” says Lalita.

You can view the work of Lalita and her fellow UEL students until Monday 26 June at the Old Truman Brewery.