Scheherazade’s Sea: continuing journey, 2021

Featured

Scheherazade’s Sea: continuing journey, 2021, was a year in the making. It was yet again another groundbreaking work on several levels. Personally, I have always presented my “Scheherazade’s Sea” series as a solo artist – creator and performer. This rendition unpacks the continuing adventures of Scheherazade with a brand new approach: Scheherazade was played by the beautiful and talented singer, performer Claire Teo, and joining the team were two other artists, Timothy Lee and Ariel Koh. This made Scheherazade’s Sea: continuing journey, 2021, not only disabled-led (conceptualised, executed and co-directed by me) but also a work featuring a cast of differently disabled artists at various stages of their artistic journeys.

Freelance artists around the world struggle to make ends meet. In Singapore, where the arts is even less valued by society, this struggle can sometimes be very fierce. For freelance disabled artists wanting to turn professional, and departing from the charity models, the scenario is bleak. But artists always hold on to hope, keeping our dreams alive even if by a thin thread. Since Scheherazade first appeared in 2010, my personal and professional journey has been an amazing one, at times tumultuous, but always incredibly thrilling and never boring. It is a story of survival against the odds and unexpected achievements – all of which I owe to my party of valiant human supporters and to Lucy Like-a-Charm. Upon returning to Singapore, I decided that this part of my life’s journey will be one that is actively “paying it forward” for as long as I can create art.

Scheherazade’s Sea 2021, is about newness – finding new friends and loyal supporters, and being gifted the honour and blessing of Clement Space in the form of a differently embodied creature named Lucy Like-a-Charm. In honour of all the people who have supported me so generously in a plethora of ways, I am now using Scheherazade’s Sea to provide practical spaces for other disabled artists in Singapore mentorship and learning experiences they may not otherwise have access to without the benefit of an overseas education. Beyond the narrative and multi-dimensional aspects of the work itself, my intentions were for this work to be a true-to-live yet safe space for professional training and experience for the cast, wherever they may be along their own paths. I can only do this, of course, with continued support from my faithful friends, my younger sister Althea, and my confrère Peter Sau, who began my Singapore journey for me. I was inspired by Peter’s vigour and spirit in his seminal work “Project Tandem” and his role in “The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues,” and am thankful for our serendipitous meeting – because, being autistic, I have no idea how to network like neurotypical people do and so every angel in my life is to me truly a gift of providence. Thank you, Peter!

Scheherazade’s Sea 2021 is also a practice-based research into navigating the realm of the so-called ‘invisible disability’ as well as un-noticed vulnerability, and forging new strategies to artistic practice that provides access in ways that are unavailable in traditional approaches and methods. I am currently working on the final report and will share my findings soon.

A note on why I continue to make this work freely accessible to all, despite having been told to keep away from the public eye in order to pitch it to various festivals and events in Singapore and overseas. When I created Scheherazade’s Sea, way back in 2010, I meant it to be a richly textured work that everyone and anyone could easily partake of, without exclusions or arbitrary boundaries to separate people. That intent still prevails today, and even if it means no festival or big event would now want to feature this work, it is ok. The latter will be a feather in my cap and that of all the cast and crew, most definitely, but I prefer still to stay true to my raison d’être as illustrated here by a picture of Lucy Like-a-Charm, black greyhound wearing a turquoise collar with bright red silk flower, in down position, half her body visible, long slim legs, paws outstretched and facing left, against a textured ‘furry’ beige background, and cursive text in black reading:

“It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’ but to empower beauty
in the vulnerable and unnoticed.”
©Dawn-joy Leong 2010

I hope you enjoy the video and if you are a curator, we would, of course, love the opportunity to be featured in your festival or curated collective show if you understand my decision to make this video publicly available.

If you’d like to read my opening speech at the online premiere, please click on this link.

Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards 2021

Featured

Yesterday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I had the honour of receiving the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards 2021 UBS Achievement Award. Thank you to ARTDIS (formerly Very Special Arts) for nominating me, and to all my steadfast and loyal supporters in my personal and professional life who’ve believed in my journey and my quest, many of whom have gone outside of their own comfort zones to support me without ever once trying to manipulate or dictate my chosen path. It is this privilege of supported autonomy that is driving me to pay it forward, to offer what I have been given to those who may not have the same supports. This is my wish for all persons with disabilities, that we are given our rights for autonomy with the supports that will help us grow into our dreams and visions. Presume competence. Always. Even though it may not look the same as what you envision it to be.

My raison d’être:

It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’ but to empower beauty in the vulnerable and unseen. (©Dawn-joy Leong, 2010)

International Women’s Day 2022 – Interview

I do apologise for not keeping up with this website. I think I need to ask for help here. But I’ll do things cautious autistic style. In the meantime, here is the latest article to emerge on yours truly.

Thank you, True Colors Festival, for making this interview so enjoyable for me, and it’s so encouraging to see my country finally beginning to embrace neurodiversity respectfully. Baby steps still, but everything has to have a humble beginning.

Women at work: Dr Dawn-Joy Leong

(Please click on title or photo to link to the article in the True Colors Festival VOICE blog page. Thank you!)

Asia Performing Arts Exchange Project

Singaporean artist/director/producer/performing arts mentor and my collaborator for the last couple of years, Peter Sau, talks about disabled leadership in the Asia Performing Arts Exchange Project. Thank you, Peter. An honour and joy to work with you. You push for excellence and hard work, but you always work hard with heart! Just the way I like it!

some takeaways from Peter…

Can we stop talking about them, stop talking for them, and start to talk with them?

I’m just not yet disabled. (Commenting about age-ing and becoming disabled in old age.)

Why can’t we start to talk with people who know more than us?
We need a co-creation space to make something new which will surprise us, which will teach us something which we cannot teach ourselves.

Accessibility works both ways.

We need something new, refreshing.
We should be thinking about more time, more approaches, more people to come into the picture so that we can co-learn together and let go of what we know.
Letting go of what we know in order to learn new things.
Inclusion is for everyone – disabled artists include the non-disabled and reciprocal learning takes place.

and more vignettes from Peter in the Q&A…

When I first started working with disabled artists, I paid for every single transport for wheelchair users, I paid for a sign language interpreter, I paid the allowance for them to start to respect their art… everything from my savings.

We are the biggest sponsor of our own art. Because we love it, we want it.

We could be bankers, lawyers, medical doctors…

Why are we so stubborn? It’s because we are artists.

We can’t change our ‘DNA’ so what can we do about it?

I taught myself… quiet or go on.

Sponsor or find a sponsor.

Convert people to believe and believe, keep on talking, talk until we go to our grave… keep talking about it until it happens before you die…

It’s a bonus to say “I saw it happen”…

I believe I am just one small part of this ecosystem. I’m so bored with mainstream arts, it taught me nothing.

I am an actor, producer, director, for twenty years, I am so jaded and disappointed with what is out there… especially now with COVID19… it is hurting our mainstream artists already, how about our disabled artists?

We can’t do anything about it except to keep believing. For myself, I train them… up-skilling, second skills… when times are good again … when people / government can see that we are sponsoring ourselves, our lives, they would want to give something… to match up…

it takes a systemic change…

it is going to take a long time, there is no easy short cut…

… talking to (aspiring artists) in a classroom, to parents of disabled children to believe in them, to my boss, to my arts council… to friends from the mainstream… I keep on talking… it’s tiring but I want to do it.

It will have to come from us, and then hopefully the whole world would come on board.

K9 Assistance (Ltd) – launch video

After a year of hard work, we have finally launched our new charity! K9 Assistance (Ltd) Singapore is Singapore’s first and only charity organisation focusing on assistance dogs for the disabled. We are committed to educate, create better understanding, awareness and acceptance, as well as eventually match assistance dogs with disabled people.

In this video, I announced Lucy’s retirement from active duty as my assistance dog. She will continue to share her special joy as K9 Assistance’s Ambassadog!

Check out our launch video on Youtube!

Please do also support us at giving.sg/k9assistance – every little gift goes a long way!

Follow us on Facebook at K9 Assistance Ltd Singapore. Join our group, engage in discussions, ask questions and help spread the awareness and acceptance!

Illumination

Here is such an exquisite review by my friend, Autistic artist, Sonia Boué, of the beautiful film by Project Artworks, “Illuminating The Wilderness.”

Sonia has an amazing way with words. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy piece, in fact, her words are so lithe and fluid, yet exquisitely penetrating and precise, that I am left catching my breath at the sharp, deft unlocking of a wealth of unspoken, unworded meaning. And, in an uncanny way, each and every time I am incapable of bringing into the tangible realm what I wish to express, somehow, Sonia’s words will give strong yet delicate voice to the rhythmic humming resonating in my being.

“How rare it is to see people with complex needs just being. Humming is natural, and nothing is dressed-up; this isn’t ‘special needs’ for consumption. There’s no attempt to exoticise or glamorise our being. The camera captures ordinary moments valuing autistic language and expression on our terms.”

This is exactly what first hit me right there at my core, when I first watched the film. It unpacks our meanings, our world, on our terms.

Actually, I watched it three times, each time catching different details and sensory echoes. In fact, I’ve also run it over and over again in the background, allowing different aspects of it to weave in and out of my consciousness, meandering and winding around caverns of sensory subconscious as I engage in different light tasks. I love the clattering sounds, the staccato, the ripples, the appoggiatura and trills, the sudden drop in levels, the pitter patter of rain like crisps dancing inside a foil coated box…

And then, Sonia says this:

“It suddenly strikes me that this film feels like home to me because this is where I began. There’s a circularity in writing this piece for Project Art Works, which underlines its immense importance as an artwork. As a young art therapist, I was employed in a residential setting for adults with complex needs; not knowing that I was myself autistic until very many years later. Since then, I’ve come to recognise aspects of myself in those with more complex needs than my own, but as a younger person I had no way of understanding why I was so drawn to this world. Years of my life have been wasted and lost.”

Wasted and lost! Wasted AND lost! WASTED and lost! Wasted and LOST! These words sound like bells, whose echoes and reverberations fill my chest cavity, pounding against my rib cage. I think of the bells inside Magdelen College Tower on the first of May.

Everything is there, embedded in Sonia’s three words. This world that is so simply presented in the film, a realm so full, so abundant with wonderment.

When I first read Searle’s review, pronouncing it “problematic” without any further explanation, a searing hot rage shot through my core. I was shaking with fury, yet hurt, it brought back horrific wound trauma, I know that kind of dismissal too well, flicking away the rich tapestry of my multi-textured world like crumbs off a table, that neuronormative gesture of disdain so ponderous, so callous, so crude in its garish ignorance.

But then, after the film had played umpteen times like a comforting echo in my senses, I now feel sad. Sad for Searle and those like him, who are unable to access and luxuriate in our world, who stand outside and sweep at crumbs on neuronormative cafe tables, never noticing the flow, the undulating rhythm, the shuddering patterns, and the tiny clicking, chirping sounds the specks make as they fall, fall, fall to the groaning, giggling ground. A tragedy, to me, not to be able to resonate with the richness that is our multidimensional universe. This is the true loss. Yet, do they know of this loss?

Sonia’s words again, in her other article responding to Searle’s review:

“This film speaks to me in my language. This is mysensory world. For me, Illuminating the Wilderness is a rare and beautiful thing, and I feel sorry for those who can’t see it. Our immersive connection to the sensory world can feel vast and expansive – it is beyond words. This is supremely exciting to us, and joyfully fulfilling. It’s why we don’t need to people so much – we have this!”

Yes, we do indeed, and what a wonderful world it is!

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Lucy and I spent the afternoon at Eden Hall with the British High Commissioner Ms Kara Owen CVO, and British Council’s Director of Arts and Creative Industries, Dr Sarah Meisch Lionetto, and theatre maestro and close collaborator Peter Sau.

Lucy Like-a-Charm was there too, in one of her last public work engagements as my assistance dog.

Happy IDPwD, everyone!

Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world.

Scheherazade’s Sea: stories & songs from a hidden world. 2020.

Dear Friends, here is my most recent work. A fully digitalised re-arrangement of the original Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010.

Welcome to “Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world.”

In the next twenty minutes or so, through video, stories, poetry and songs, you will see, hear and experience tiny reflections from my Autistic world.

The title is inspired by Scheherazade in the ‘Arabian Nights’ folk tales, whose stories to the wicked Sultan helped her survive and saved her life.

My Scheherazade is an Autistic girl, journeying alone through an unkind world, where she encounters confusing twists and turns of lies, betrayal and disappointment. When at last, she begins to embrace and love her unique Autistic self with courage and determination, Scheherazade discovers that her Autistic world, Scheherazade’s Sea, while misunderstood by others, is actually a beautiful one, full of wonderment and hope, a deep and wide ocean alive with infinite possibilities. It is then, that she finds strength within to continue along her journey, bravely embracing her unique Autistic Joy.

“Scheherazade’s Sea: stories and songs from a hidden world” is fully digitalised and revised from its original version, which was performed in Hong Kong in 2010, and The World Stage Design Festival in Cardiff, U.K. in 2013.

Sound engineering by Karen Low (Singapore)
Portrait of Scheherazade by Kateryna Fury (USA)
Little Duckling narrated by Sumita Majumdar (UK)

Supported by the National Arts Council Singapore & SG Culture Anywhere.

Clement Space at Suwon

Launched yesterday, “Clement Space @Suwon, 2020” and “An Olfactory Map of Sydney, 2017” is part of a show at the Suwon Art Museum, South Korea. (00:40 – 01:00)

Thank you to Jinseon and everyone in the team who sought me out and connected with me, I’ve had a wonderful working experience with you. Everyone is so kind and polite, a lot for me to learn!

Here is the Korean write up, for those who know the language:

#그것은_무엇을_밝히나#전시#개막 . 수원시립미술관은 아트스페이스 광교에서 9월 22일(화)부터 12월 27일(일)까지 기획전 ≪그것은 무엇을 밝히나≫를 개최합니다. . 이번 전시는 이 세상을 밝히는 근본적인 요소인 ‘빛’에 관한 이야기입니다. . 전시 제목에서 알 수 있듯, 빛을 의미하는 ‘그것은’ 시간의 흐름에 따라 시대와 사회가 공유하는 ‘무엇을’ 어떤 시각과 입장으로 어떻게 ‘밝히나’의 이야기를 담고 있습니다. . ‘1부 : 시공간을 확장하는 빛’에서는 ‘빛’과 시간 공간이 결합하여 나오는 여러 가지 경험들에 관한 탐구와 관점을, . ‘2부 : 사유의 매개로서 빛’에서는 빛에 대한 우리의 시선을 가시적인 세계 너머로 이끌며, . ‘3부 : 공동체 메시지를 전하는 빛’에서는 각각의 고민을 통하여 개인적 상징인 작은 불빛을 이용해 사회적인 현실을 담아냈습니다. . 각 섹션을 통하여 7개국 10명의 작가들이 제안하는 다층적인 빛을 아트스페이스 광교에서 만나볼 수 있습니다. . 현재 수원시립미술관은 현재 수도권 지역 사회적 거리두기 2단계 조치로 코로나19 확산 예방 및 관람객 안전을 위해 상황 진정 시까지 휴관 중이니 온라인으로 ≪그것은 무엇을 밝히나≫ 전시를 만나보세요. .

📌 ≪그것은 무엇을 밝히나≫ 전시일정 📌 . 📅 기간 : 2020. 09. 22(화) – 2020. 12. 27(일)
🏢 장소 : 아트스페이스 광교(수원컨벤션센터 B1)
🎨 참여작가 : #던_조이_렁 (Dawn_joy_Leong) #박기원#박여주#영타_창 (Yung_Ta_Chang) #우종덕#이안_번즈 (Ian_Burns) #마르타_아티엔자 (Martha_Atienza) #정정엽#피터_무어 (Peter_Moore) #FX_하르소노 (FX_Harsono) . . #수원시립미술관#아트스페이스광교#그것은무엇을밝히나#그것은#무엇을#밝히나

#TURN_YOUR_LIGHTS_ON#Dawn_joy_Leong#Yung_Ta_Chang#Ian_Burns#Martha_Atienza#Peter_Moore#FX_Harsono

Seeing Singapore Clearly through the Eyes of Disability

This morning, the Birthday Book 2020 arrived. Even though I don’t get a single cent of royalties from this book, I am glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to this collection, and I chose a topic that is important to me: disability. I’m allowed to share my own essay in my networks, and so here it is. But before you read the piece, please check out my Facebook post for some background information, and do please join us at the launch if you can. Thank you!

And here is the short essay:

Seeing Singapore Clearly through the Eyes of Disability – Dawn-joy Leong
First published in The Birthday Book 20/20: Seeing Clearly edited by Selina Chong and Chua Jun Yan (Singapore: The Birthday Collective, 2020).

I was born in the year of Singapore’s independence. My childhood memories were filtered through the lenses of my immediate world. To me, Singapore was a small, brave country with a firm but capable government dedicated to creating better lives for citizens.

My parents had friends from diverse backgrounds and I was taught to embrace diversity. Father, a dental surgeon, often saw patients who could not afford to pay for treatment. Out of gratitude, they brought him whatever they had: home- baked cakes and food, eggs from their kampung chickens and even the occasional live fowl. Mother was a teacher, and she used to give extra lessons to students who were floundering and unable to afford private tuition. I remember mother bringing me along during some of her home visits, armed with books, stationery and food for the students and their families.

I lived a life of relative privilege, but my parents inculcated in me a sense of civic duty. They taught me to view everyone with compassion and respect. I also firmly believed in our National Pledge’s commitment to “justice and equality”. Despite being labeled as “eccentric”, I enjoyed a healthy social life, and employment was not an issue. Unaffected by discrimination or injustice, I naively believed there wasn’t any in Singapore.

Then I found out at the age of forty-two, while pursuing an M.Phil in music composition at the University of Hong Kong, that I am Autistic. After Hong Kong, I received a Ph.D scholarship at the University of New South Wales, Australia. I openly and proudly identified as Autistic, using the Identity-First language preferred by most Autistic people globally. I acquired a psychiatric assistance dog, Lucy, for my sensory anxiety, with the legal right to have her with me everywhere I went. I helped to found an Autism Research Group comprising autistic and non-autistic members across different disciplines. I was awarded my school’s “Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research”, an accolade given to one top PhD candidate per year.

It was only upon returning to Singapore, proudly identifying as Autistic, that my erstwhile gentle and salubrious world cracked open to a harsh reality. In late 2016, Lucy and I made an exciting journey to Singapore, traveling in-cabin together for the first time. My elation quickly fizzled away when I stepped out of Changi and found that Lucy was not welcome in most places. Assistance dogs for the disabled have existed for many decades, yet most Singaporeans – including those who work in the field of disability – had never heard of them, apart from Guide Dogs for the blind.

The stability of full-time employment eluded me. Non-disabled people claiming to be disability experts corrected me in my use of self-identifying terminology, as if they knew better. When I asked for an honorarium to speak at events, I was told variously that I should be grateful for the “exposure”, or that I should work for the benefit of my “own community”, or that experienced artists should give talks without payment to”‘inspire” young people.

Strangely enough, these people were paid to do their jobs in whatever enterprise they represented. Here was my reply: I did engage in volunteer work. For example, I was and am a Board Member of the Disabled People’s Association. But it is my right – and not someone else’s – to decide to whom I offer my time, energy and expertise. Disabled people have higher bills to pay just to exist. How are we to do so if all we ever did was volunteer work?

Where are the voices of those who are actually disabled in this cacophony of “awareness” and “inclusion”? Disabled leadership is not about exclusive power or taking away jobs from the non-disabled, but rather having a dignified place at the table where our voices – personal and professional – may be valued alongside our non-disabled peers.

My story does not end in tragedy and hopelessness. After two years of knocking repeatedly at the nebulous “glass ceiling”, I decided that the way forward was self-employment. I met disabled and non-disabled people who were sincere and committed to the goal of equity and progress and unafraid to step into uncharted ground. These included university professors, young researchers, representatives of organisations, and people with diverse disabilities joining together to widen horizons beyond old models of charity.

In 2019, I co-founded the Disabled Artists’ Collective, a pan-disability group of freelance artists. I began collaborating with theatre producer-director Peter Sau, a pioneer in theatre practice with disabled artists. I helmed Singapore’s first disabled-led artist residency at library@orchard, featuring three neurodivergent artists from the Disabled Artists’ Collective. In June, I was one of two Autistic Plenary Speakers at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019, marking the first time actual Autistic persons were represented prominently in a major autism event in Singapore.

In 2020, six members of the Disabled Artists’ Collective performed in a groundbreaking promenade theatre show, “Something About Home”. It was Singapore’s first fully accessible and inclusive mainstream professional production featuring disabled artists, but not limited to the arts and disability platform. The National Gallery also commissioned my work, Clement Space, a calm room based on my research in Autism, designed from within the Autistic paradigm.

As a disabled person, I see Singapore more clearly now than ever before. Insecurity, ignorance and exploitation prevail, but there is also sincere intent, commitment, and
vast potential. I wish for a Singapore where the disabled and non-disabled have equal rights to stand together as “one united nation, based on justice and equality”.

Here is my raison d’être:

“It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’, but to empower beauty in the vulnerable and unseen.” Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010.


To order the book, please head to the Birthday Collective’s website. They’re offering a 10% discount for pre-launch orders (online launch happening 22 August this Saturday!). ** I don’t earn a single cent of royalties but do please support this good work!