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.
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 confrèrePeter 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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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. .
I love the quietude of what people are calling “self-isolation” and “distancing”. I am one of those autists who delight in inhabiting my own little bubble of presence. Yet, I am unable to quell the force majeure of interconnectivity, and what my mind intuits and decodes is quietly shattering the gentleness of solitude.
My Autistic Brain, yes, blame that brain. All those little details, patterns, rhythmic sequences unfolding, unpacking and evolving. The minuscule bits and bobs that reach out with mournful tendrils, grasp, touch and intertwine across a massive expansive network of misery, fear, anxiety and pain. The final few seconds of gasping, life slipping away, the excruciating knowing. The gnashing and grinding of teeth as vicious evil commodifies lives, directing the theatrical tragedy from their self-established positions in the stratosphere, while commonplace humanity groans. Every little ornament – dust particles of affliction, microscopic droplets of misery – screams in shattering silence. The turmoil is palpable, overwhelming and crushing – all the frantically gyrating, jostling dots are concatenated in dolorous bitter chains.
It isn’t only sensory inundation that leads to meltdown. It’s also cognitive deluge that threatens shutdown.