When Lupita greets me she holds my face in her hands. "It's cold outside!" I tell her, as I step through the door. She instantly feels my hands, "pssh, you have no gloves!", and my neck, "ah, at least you have a scarf."
In 2004, Lupita lost her vision after an eye condition she first contracted at the age of 14 returned. Despite this, she is, without a doubt the brightest, most colourful person I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.
I've come to talk to Lupita about her enduring love for art. It's a passion that is evident if you visit her home. With all that Lupita has faced throughout her life (Lupita moved to the UK from Chile as a result of the political turmoil caused by the 1973 coup d'état) art has been a way for her to express herself, and to cope with challenges that she's faced.
Pieces hang in every room of Lupita's flat. One wall in her living room for instance is dominated by an incredibly intricate tapestry that Lupita made in 2003 when she had almost completely lost her sight. She wanted it to represent her "ideal town". The scene is one of peace, love and above all, colour.
A bright sun shines over a blue, orange and yellow mountain range. Below, a river snakes through fields made of different materials of yellow and green. A man sits fishing ("for those who eat meat" Lupita tells me), another girl sits under a tree reading, a couple are getting married ("I love weddings!"), there is a school, and a bakery ("because I love bread!").
Above: Lupita's tapestry, partially hidden by all of her Christmas cards!
As Lupita and I stand side by side in front of the tapestry, she describes it in perfect detail. You'd be forgiven for forgetting that she hasn't actually seen the piece in over 15 years. I ask her about this, and she tells me, "I see it in my mind... for instance, there have been many times where I am remembering a conversation or a dinner, and I say, 'hey hey Lupita, wait a minute! You were blind when that happened!' Because I'm seeing the people, and I'm seeing the table we sat on."
(Above: a model of a victorian stove that Lupita has made by touch)
Lupita's imagination and her drive to create is simply inspiring. These days, Lupita turns to pottery as a way to express herself; creating plates, vases, even essential oil burners, by touch.
Lupita creates the work, fires it, and when it comes to painting her pottery, one of Lupita's Love Your Neighbour volunteers Elizabeth helps to cut stencils that she can use. "Then I can feel the outline (of the stencil) and use sponges and my fingers to paint on the work."
While Lupita is completely blind, her brain still produces colour, "it's beautiful not to just see black because blind people usually see black, but I don't... the colours are inside me. I'm immersed in them. I tell you it's delicious. It's like floating. All is well. You feel things in the air, and the air tells you things. Everything is written in the air. Everything! You might think ‘she's crazy’... well a little bit! Yes! Absolutely! But it's wonderful!"
Above: Lupita with Elizabeth
Lupita even tells me that her Indian head massage teacher (another story, for another blog) is convinced the colours she sees are people's auras! You know what? I'm convinced too.
Lupita is a natural people person. Standing next to her, looking at her 'ideal town' tapestry, the peaceful countryside depicted is a far cry from London. But the scene is filled with people ("it's almost a little too crowded!" Lupita laughs) and it's clear that Lupita places huge importance on companionship and community. It’s the reason she joined our Love Your Neighbour programme, to enjoy conversation, company and sharing stories with new people. And what stories and skills she has to share.
Lupita is one of 72 older neighbours that take part in Love Your Neighbour. To find out how to volunteer yourself, and make wonderful friendships with people like Lupita, head here.
Posted by Johanna Brooks on Monday 4th February 2019
Johanna is the Development Coordinator at South London Cares. She heads up our fundraising programme, cheering on our donors, challenge fundraisers and all those that help to make our activities possible.