Autistic artist-researcher presenting autism as parallel embodiment, with sensory-cognitive idiosyncrasy as the nucleus of research, and an artistic practice of immersive mind-body experiences via music, visual art, photography, narrative, poetry and performance. With Lucy Like-a-Charm, a rescued former racing Greyhound, my beautiful creative muse, research assistant and faithful companion, we traverse blended, multidimensional terrains of wonderment: flipping pages of imagination, dancing around pandiatonic-chromatic-polyrhythmic mental fires, making splotches, humming in and out of tune, flying and falling, meandering in and out of discombobulation, gazing at pulchritude, picking up sound waves, celebrating symbiotic connectivity, and finding new ways to sense the world and Be.
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Dr. Dawn-Joy Leong is a researcher, multi-artist, TEDx speaker; she is one of the founding directors of K9 Assistance (Ltd), Singapore’s first and currently only charity organisation promoting the benefits of assistance dogs for the disabled; as well as a board member of the Disabled People’s Association, Singapore.
A specialist consultant in the Arts and Disability, Disability Leadership, Autism, Neurodiversity, Multi-Art applications, her workshops and talks focus mainly on mental health and wellbeing, life skills, creative thinking, learning strategies, disability advocacy, and access and inclusion, especially pertaining to arts practice and spaces. Dawn-joy’s most recent publication is the report commissioned by the British Council, The Arts and Disability in Singapore: a journey of dynamic partnership between the United Kingdom and Singapore through the British Council.
Dawn-joy is autistic, and her assistance dog, Lucy Like-a-Charm, provides mitigation support for Dawn’s sensory anxiety. Rescued from the cruel Greyhound racing industry in Australia, Lucy is now Dawn’s closest and most trusted companion, muse and research assistant, creating for Dawn an oasis of calm in the midst of the overwhelming cacophony of a frenetic cityscape, and a crucial source of strength for her many ventures far and wide.
Dr. Leong has a Masters of Philosophy in music composition, and a PhD in Autism, Neurodiversity and Multi-Art Praxis, for which she was conferred the 2016 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Research from UNSW Art & Design, Australia, an honour given to only one top candidate per year. Dawn-joy was also awarded the Arts in Society International Excellence Award in 2013, for her paper, “Art in a Hidden World – creative process and invisible anomaly”. She has published, performed and exhibited her transdisciplinary work in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea and Singapore; and has been interviewed by and featured in multiple media networks in Australia and Singapore, including SBS Australia, ABC Australia, The Conversation, Artlink and the Straits Times, Channel News Asia, threesixzero films, Pets Magazine and Cleo.
Since returning to Singapore in late 2016, Dawn-joy has engaged passionately in disability advocacy and mentoring of future disabled leaders in their chosen fields of practice. Her most recent and ongoing volunteering projects are all ground-breaking ‘firsts’ in Singapore.
The first Disabled-Led residency at the library@orchard, “Designing Clement Space”, exploring theory, practice and expression of creating conducive spaces for wellbeing through the combined perspectives of Neurodivergence – her own autism and that of two young emerging artists with Down Syndrome. Their Artists’ Talk (7 April) features an introduction to novel ways of communicating concepts and experiences, as well as poetic responses from two other artists with disability.
Dawn-joy co-founded and leads Singapore’s first Disabled Artists’ Collective, a fully disabled-led initiative supported by the Disabled People’s Association, which aims and activities include reciprocal mentorship, artistic training, education and information, mutual support, networking with arts companies and arts providers as allies, and advocacy for best practices.
Dr. Leong was also the first and only local autistic person to be invited to sit in both the organising and scientific committees for the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 (APAC19), in which she has played a key role in campaigning for greater representation of autistic persons. An unprecedented number (for Singapore) of autistic individuals were actively involved in APAC19 at different levels: Dawn-joy was one of two autistic researchers delivering Plenary speeches (the other being Dr. Damian Milton), there was an autistic panel featuring autistic adults (local and overseas), generous sponsorship for autistic presenters and a team of local autistic adult volunteers helping with logistics and other duties.
In January 2020, Dawn-joy was one of the performers and a key sensory advisor in Something About Home, a theatre promenade conceptualised and directed by theatre maestro Peter Sau, commissioned by the National Gallery Singapore, comprising a cast of 6 artists with different disabilities. In the same month, Dawn-joy Leong became the first autistic artist in Singapore to be commissioned by a major visual arts institution, the National Gallery Singapore, to hold a solo exhibition, Clement Space, a new, playful and whimsical iteration of Dawn-joy’s signature concept and practice of the same name, promoting mental wellbeing from within the natural Autistic paradigm.
This year, in 2021, September, Dr. Leong will present another ‘first’ in Singapore: a multidisciplinary digital-cum-live performance of a brand new chapter in the Scheherazade’s Sea narrative entitled, Scheherazade’s Sea: continuing odyssey. Created by an artist with disabilities, and featuring three talented emerging professional artists with disabilities, this experimental production will also offer a report on alternative performance practice approaches that will provide due access and inclusion for artists with sensory idiosyncrasies and the immunocompromised. This production is a work-in-progress, supported by a National Arts Council Creation Grant and produced by Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore.