The heart-rending exhibition of pictures by children who may not reach adulthood


Last updated at 21:48 24 November 2007

It is, by any standards, a striking and disturbing image.

In the centre, bony hands prepare to squeeze the breath from a pair of lungs. The picture's border, meanwhile, is made of soft, pink, fluffy feathers interspersed with blue butterflies.

But what makes this imaginative and deeply personal picture almost unbearably poignant is the tragic real-life story behind it.

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It was created by ten-year-old Oxford schoolgirl Leah Graham, who suffers from incurable cystic fibrosis. Although fragile, the watercolour collage will almost certainly survive her.

"My picture is my lungs," said Leah, who painted the image for a forthcoming London exhibition of art by children who are all unlikely to reach adulthood.

"There are hands around them because that is how I feel - that someone is squeezing them," she added. "I have put them inside a big bubble to show that I feel sometimes like I'm looking out and not able to do stuff. I have two older sisters and three younger brothers, although one of them went to heaven. All the feathers are all my friends and family loving me. My favourite colour is pink."

Leah's condition means she has regular painful visits to hospital and takes a bewildering range of medicines just to stay alive.

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She has physiotherapy twice a day to keep her airways clear of mucus and regularly visits the Hope House Children's Hospice in Oxford, where she gets practical support and some measure of fun.

Leah and more than 60 other children-with long-term medical conditions will participate in a uniquely moving exhibition opening in London on Tuesday next week.

The following evening, celebrities will take part in an auction for some of the works, which each reflect an important aspect of difficult lives. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is one of the stars backing the exhibition at Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, SE1 9JH, which runs until December 9.

He picked out eight-year-old Sam Ronson's Hogwarts-themed picture for special praise. Sam, who cannot speak and is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a congenital viral infection, painted the picture with the help of his two sisters.

"I am so impressed by Sam's picture. He has done a fantastic job of recreating the magical atmosphere of the Harry Potter films he loves," said Daniel.

Television presenter Holly Willoughby - patron of The Association of Children's Hospices charity which has organised the event, called This Is Me: The Art Of Children - said: "All the children have done fantastically well."

Money raised will be divided between 28 hospices. Barbara Gelb, chief executive of the charity, said: "The works vary from light-hearted to darker explorations of having a life-limiting illness."

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