The artistic sphere is nowadays abuzz with terms like “access” and “inclusion”, with all and sundry jumping into the scene laying claim to these trendy words, but how many actually understand what they mean in practice, I wonder? No, I am not talking about the fluffy feel-good pulling-at-heartstrings stuff, or the tired and worn circus-style acts that purport to ‘include’ the disabled but are actually poorly contrived, inexpert displays of awkward disability tokenism. I am looking for concrete, meaningful and practical facilitation of access, and an inclusion that allows persons with disabilities to function from out of their individual optimal realm. Every person has the latter, regardless of what it actually is in shape, size, colour or form, we all each have our own little space, a Clement Space, in which we feel safe and from which we are allowed to emerge wholly ourselves, not broken or wanting to be fixed.
A working trip to the United Kingdom at the end of 2019 perfectly illustrated for me in real-time the essence of true, respectful, creative, meticulous and effective support – that is, dynamic access and inclusion in action.
A term coined by me in my PhD dissertation, “Clement Space” denotes a mental and physical ‘space’ for sensory equilibrium, an oasis in the midst of raging, parched desert sands. Like empathy, Clement Space is not some beauteous space that comes from a wave of the magician’s wand. It needs to be designed, crafted and maintained. Calm and serenity actually require a great deal of active energy in order to create and achieve. It also needs guarding against antagonistic elements from within and without, i.e. from inside our own tempests as well as from people (other) who may encroach upon our carefully built peace, whether intentionally or not. Unlike teacakes on a platter in a fancy restaurant, Clement Space isn’t at all about waiting passively for others to provide, but an action – sometimes even quite vigorous – towards that much-needed state of rest and restoration.
I shall be chatting with Paul Micallef on 18 October about Autism-Friendly Learning Environment, how to encourage learning from within the autistic paradigm, rather than by correction and coercion to comply with neuronormative channels.
Autism Explained Online Summit is a week-long online summit featuring autistic and non-autistic professionals in the field, providing insights and advice to parents on different themes. The line-up of speakers includes Temple Grandin, Peter Vermeulen, Yenn Purkis, Daniel Giles, Andrew Whitehouse, Shadia Hancock, Wenn Lawson, Tom Tutton, Chris Varney, Emma Goodall, Jac den Houting, Chris Bonnello and many more presenting eclectic viewpoints, all in the same space!
It has taken me a long time to finally write about my appearance in the last episode of the series on Autism, “Uniquely Me – Episode 6“, which aired on MediaCorp’s Chinese Channel 8 , on 11 June 2019.
I’m honoured to be paired with Jun Wei, a fellow musician, in this feature. I thank director Bee Har Koah of Threesixzero films for her sensitive handling of the subject. It was a pleasure to work with her, and she did not disappoint my trust in her artistic integrity. My greatest fear each time I consent to be featured in public media of any kind is the twisted portrayal of “inspirational porn”, sensationalism and evocations of a grand pity-party. It did not happen in this series, and I felt the episode unfolded in a practical, unemotional way, offering concrete real-life glimpses into our lives.
I appreciate that the episode highlighted our artistry and our passion for music and art, rather than focusing on “overcoming the odds”. It did not create heroes out of us, but rather presented a human side to our parallel autistic embodiment.
I also love the way director Bee Har included Lucy in such a sensitive way. Lucy is truly my muse, closest companion, Canine Angel and lastly, my trained assistance dog. She has traversed with me, always watchful, always faithful, across seven years of adventure, tumultuous changes, unexpected achievement and inspired my concept and practice of Clement Space. I owe her my very life, I wouldn’t be where I am were it not for her steadfast and cogent presence.
Many have asked me whether I have directly benefitted (financially or career-wise) from all the exposure in the media. My answer is a definitive no. I have not received any grand offer of financial gain, fabulous professional engagements or that elusive thing that autistics all desire – a decent job commensurate with our skills and qualifications. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have said often that I find it stressful and anxiety-laden to be interviewed or featured this way. I am revealing intimate parts of my life, leaving myself open to criticism and gawking, and I never know if or when the journalist or feature director will be faithful to my guidelines and demands for accuracy and respectful portrayal. Thus far, I have been lucky to a great extent – I have managed to avoid being held up as “inspirational”, and the media coverage has been largely respectful according to my own terms. But why do I even do this, if it brings so much discomfort? My reasons are simple. This is my contribution to my autistic community, my way of advocating for respect, equity and understanding, presenting the human side of my autism, laying bare my own fragility for a chance that someone somewhere may be blessed by my derring-do, comforted by my facing life challenges with honesty, or persuaded by my courage to step forward into the harsh, unforgiving limelight.
We are all autistic, we share a common neurological function, we face similar challenges, yet we are all uniquely different individuals in a richly textured existence. Listen to us, learn from us, respect our narratives, and embrace us as part of the fabric of human existence.
Autistic pursuits and objects of passion: lavish indulgence or crucial intervention?
Autism advocacy can be devastating savagery to the Autistic Artist’s soul. Relentless and aggressive, the crass normative dominance chaffing against autistic fragility, valiantly struggling to be heard amidst Daedalian gyrations, asphyxiating gas-lighting and gelid silence, is crippling.
The Artist needs to recover Sense of Soul, that Clement Space within which emanates forth, once revived and strengthened, as vibrant virtuosity and vitality. Spiritual Sustenance.
And this Autistic Artist has been slowly mending, resuscitating, rearranging, invigorating and awakening Clement Space, Autistic Joy.
An ongoing exercise that is critical to Beingness, that marks the difference between bleak existence and dynamic Life.
This morning, I unearthed an important Object that performs a key role in this unfolding and unpacking. It is non-functional in the mundane utilitarian sense – a pair of old Ferragamo wedge shoes transformed with rocks, cheap plastic baubles and paint. It cannot be worn, it does not fit into the category of High Art, whatever that is spun out to mean, it is not aesthetically pleasing in a general sense, and it has no monetary value. Yet, it is functional because it serves a completely different purpose, sublime yet forcefully tangible to the ones who are able to perceive its potency. For this Autistic Artist, who created this object-thing, it and the act of bringing it out of its storage space, of un-hiding, un-masking, marks another hidden, intimate junction of reflection and compulsion towards healing and growth.
In an ugly world, attempting Empowerment of Beauty can be a dreadful struggle, one which goes against the fundamental nature of Beauty itself. But we need to keep going, believing, hoping, lest darkness engulfs & destroys.
Imagine a world in which different kinds of minds contribute from diverse platforms to form a dynamic, cohesive, global whole.
Imagine safer, gentler and stronger communities in which eclectic ways of thinking may thrive within a Neurocosmopolitan culture of resonant, empathic vibrancy.
It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what I ‘broken’, but to empower Beauty in the vulnerable and unnoticed.