An exhibition of portraits of and artwork by people with learning disabilities is to open in Chichester in March. 

 The exhibition, ‘The girl with the heart-shaped hands’, organised by charity Outreach 3Way, features the work of fine art photographer Maria-Aurelia Riese, as well as art created by people who use the charity’s day centre in Crawley.Those behind the exhibition believe positive images are vital to promote understanding and help people of all abilities feel welcome in communities. 

Outreach 3Way's operations director Simon Livesley said: "When talking about people with learning disabilities ‘people’ is the important word. As a set, these portraits do a wonderful job of celebrating individual characters. Maria’s managed to capture a great variety of moods and expression. The photo-shoot itself was a brilliant experience for all those involved and we’re all very proud of the cultural contribution these models have made.” 

 Vienna-born Riese added: “Photography has the power to act as a visual voice. Nowhere is this clearer than when I work with people with disabilities. “I hope that viewing these natural portraits and the works of art created by people with learning disabilities will act as a gentle way of building understanding. There is a natural human reaction to feel awkward around those who look and behave differently from what we are used to. Once you really see someone for who they are that melts away. I very much hope this exhibition has that effect.”The girl with the heart-shaped hands opens on March 20 and runs until April 1 at Chichester's Oxmarket Centre Of Arts.A video of the photo shoot can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlqQy2G90-Q.