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Bev Hickson-Snook is an artist whose work has a strong focus on deaf life, New Zealand Sign Language

Featuring bold, eye-catching colours, Bev's art embodies the minute aspects of life that can often be overlooked by others who are not deaf, but hugely important for those who are. An example of this is the recent, very touching artwork she created in response to seeing photos shared by The Hearing House on social media of children signing during a playgroup run by The Hearing House and First Signs/ Deaf Aotearoa.

In her own words, Bev says, “The photos were of adults and children - some Deaf/deaf and some hearing - in a NZ Sign Language-positive environment, talking, signing and thinking about what works for them and their child to ensure that they thrive”.

Recently, The Hearing House had the opportunity to talk to Bev about her story. Read on to find out where she draws inspiration for her art from, her perspective on cochlear implants, and the most important things in life.

Can you tell us about yourself, your family, profession, and your passions?

My husband is Deaf. I come from a family of at least six generations of people who don't hear well. Some are cousins and other family connections. There are skipped generations, and some are older generations now deceased. There is an overall recurrence of ears that don't hear well in the family.

I am retired but have worked most of my life in various roles in Deaf education and health. I love seeing people empowered through understanding. Whether that's understanding themselves or understanding others in the community. Or whether it is about the world and life in general. 

What has your hearing journey been like?

I had a hearing screening test at five years old at the mainstream school I was attending and was found to have below-par hearing. My parents were notified but nothing was actioned at the time. I was then re-screened at seven years of age and my parents were told something should be done and hearing aids were provided through the local hospital.

I was an intermittent hearing aid wearer with increasing use at Intermediate school and when I finally entered high school, I realised I would need to wear them consistently and became an everyday wearer. I was fully mainstreamed throughout my education years with my hearing gradually changing from moderate to severe to profoundly deaf during those years. 

Hearing aids and I grew up together. With my hearing loss changing over the years, the technology of hearing aids improved over time, so I was always able to use hearing aids effectively with the support of lipreading. 

Later on, cochlear implants were developed and I believed the technology produced sound on a par with the latest hearing aid technology, so I saw no need for it. I was aware of the Deaf community's concern regarding cochlear implants but have never held a position on whether the Deaf community should accept them or not. It is parental/guardianship responsibility to make these informed decisions.

What drove you to consider CIs and when did you discover drawing/art?

Four years ago, I received a cochlear implant. By this time, ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was increasingly interfering with my life and I wanted technology that would better assist me in connecting with hearing family members and the hearing community.

During COVID restrictions, my ME/CFS deteriorated. I had been filling my days with family history research but with falling energy levels, I was finding it increasingly difficult to stay focused. We had an older tablet sitting around and around November 2021, I started looking for an app for sketching on it. Having never sketched before, I could hardly draw a decent line and had no skill in drawing faces, people or objects of any kind except for rudimentary shapes. I sketched daily and gradually improved.

D/deafness was a consistent theme and rather than overwhelm those who followed my personal Facebook page with my sketches, I started a separate page for anyone interested.

Do you think there’s a connection between creativity & being hard of hearing?

I don't think there's any correlation between creativity and being deaf. There is of course the connection of the Deaf/deaf to things visual. Whether I was hearing or deaf, I am sure I would relate to the visual aspects as a primary preference. But many Deaf/deaf are auditory learners and like to relate quite strongly to sound but adapt to learn visually because they are Deaf/deaf. Creativity belongs to everyone.

We hear you’ve made a book. Can you tell us about it and the important messages you’d like readers of this interview know?

After a year of sketching, there were obvious changes in my skills, so I made myself a little reference book recording the progress of the first year of sketching. I happened to show this to my visiting audiologist from The Hearing House. She had a lovely and very positive response to it. As a result, I thought I would use the existing drawings I had in my sketch collection that had been posted on my art Facebook page and put CIs on them and see if I could do something more specific and interesting associated with being Deaf and CIs.

I’m aware that there is little in the way of role models in the lives of most Deaf people and their families of Deaf/deaf people. There are also not many images of people wearing CIs. I thought if people at The Hearing House liked the sketches, they might like to have a copy of the book on the coffee table in reception as another way to present ideas about being Deaf/deaf. 

What's next on the creative agenda for you?

As sketching started as a way to combat boredom due to low energy levels, there was no plan to do anything more with it. But many people seem to relate to the ideas and images, so I’d be delighted if opportunities arose in the future where more people had access to images that spoke to them about being deaf/Deaf in their everyday lives. They don’t necessarily need to be my images, but images and objects created about being deaf/Deaf made by Deaf/deaf people.


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