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.

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.

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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.

access in action

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.

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active serenity – what to do in Clement Space?

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.

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Something About Home

Promenade Theatre Performance: Something About Home,
conceptualised & directed by Peter Sau, in collaboration with 6 pan-disabled artists,
commissioned by the National Gallery Singapore.

Something About Home“, a commission by the National Gallery Singapore as part of the Light to Night Festival 2020, features members of the Disabled Artists’ Collective in a groundbreaking professional performance by a cast of artists with different disabilities. Directed and conceptualised by theatre maestro, Peter Sau, “Something About Home” vehemently rejects the common exploitation of the disability narrative, pushes past the current trend of trite and contrived tokenism, and – in a determined collective effort – sets the bar higher for professionalism in the local Arts & Disability arena.

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Clement Space – a new iteration.

I am excited to announce my commission by the National Gallery Singapore, to install a new iteration of Clement Space. Opening on 11 January 2020 as part of the larger Light to Night Festival, my installation will run on until 1 March 2020.

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Empowering Beauty

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.

neurodivergent world

Clement Space @ Playeum 2019 – Dawn-joy Leong

Seems as if I’ve been involved in quite a few “firsts” in Singapore lately. The most recent was the very first Autism/Neurodivergent-Led, Disabled-Led Art & Design residency, which was support by the National Library’s library@orchard branch, and yesterday saw the soft opening of Singapore’s first Neurodivergent immersive and interactive space – crafted by two autistic artists and two artists with Down syndrome, curated by Esther Joosa and Imran Mohamed for Playeum, a centre for children to discover creativity in multiple ways. Continue reading