Reluctant Advocate

I am not an “Autism Activist” – far from it – so, please do not call me that. Thank you. I do support the work of activists, it is a necessary force when things are woefully wrong and a great deal of vim and vigour is needed to create change for the better. It is just that my natural constitution does not fit well with the vivacity required for effective activism. Sometimes, though, I do engage in advocacy. Well, all right, quite often especially of late, but this is not what I deliberately set out to do. I am, first and foremost, an autistic researcher and multi-artist. Unpacking this further, my research interests include (but are not confined to) autism, autistic sensory idiosyncrasies, alternative and elemental empathic resonance, clement spaces of mind and body, and my material practice reflects this research, employing multiple artistic disciplines. I love my research and multi-art practice, and I adore my beloved Lucy Like-a-Charm, the two represent mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and equilibrium to me.

Lately, however, I find myself forced to neglect both my research and practice and my beloved muse Lucy, and grappling uncomfortably – eye-ball to eye-ball –  with a vehement and hearty form of vocal advocacy that stops just short of activism. Arts and Disability and Disability Arts are becoming prominent topics of discussion, development, exhibition and exploitation. At the same time, ‘Autism Awareness’ and all kinds of autism-focused activity have mushroomed seemingly from out of nowhere, permeating now the terrestrial spheres in various forms – public forums, fundraising events, educational workshops, with the mainstream and social media all abuzz. A recent article in a mainstream newspaper here in Singapore even used the term “neurodivergent”, which should have been a cause for celebration (as an indication of progress), but that initial susurrus of elation fizzled out quickly and landed flat on the floor with an unhappy squidgy ‘plop’ when I realised that the word was being employed according to Simon Baron-Cohen’s definition proposed in his article, Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry.” In this editorial, Baron-Cohen limited its application to those autistics deemed “high functioning” by the medical-pathological model, thereby excluding the entire population of non-speaking autistics that are relegated to the “low functioning” part of the ‘autism spectrum’. Autistic author, Maxfield Sparrow, has written an excellent critique of Baron-Cohen’s misrepresentation of the Neurodiversity Paradigm here: “Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen does not understand the neurodiversity paradigm.”

Not only are we still mired in the sludgy, viscid pulp of the traditional medical model of autism and locked in the vice-like grip of the charity model of disability arts practice, but emerging progressive models initiated by actual autistic advocates, researchers and scholars are now being purloined and reworked to fit the non-disabled / neuronormative colonial authority’s autocratic perspectives.

The Artist is not a solitary figure of eccentricity working completely cut-off and removed from all that is happening in the grand cosmic swirl of human frothing. Not this artist, anyway. Yes, I do understand that in one way or other, the disabled artist is inevitably connected to the fabric of disability advocacy, whether they wish to be or not (unless they refuse to identify as disabled and manage to hide the fact effectively). It becomes extremely difficult to practice art without acknowledging or being affected by an environment that is literally audibly buzzing with outdated ableist concepts, adulterated ideas touted as ‘new’ or ‘progressive’, a cacophony stolidly dominated by non-disabled / non-autistic colonialists who seem increasingly uncomfortable with the emerging alternative chorus of disabled  / autistic voices calling for “Disabled Leadership.”

Research and Art – this is what I am passionate about and what I want to engage in, and the medium of choice for my expressions to be embedded in or flow through. Yet, it seems to me, at this moment at least, that vociferous disability / autism advocacy is something I must do, in order to be free to be the Artist-Researcher that I am.

Nothing About Us Without Us – the message is rising in a polyphonic crescendo. However, when push comes to shove, will there be enough Actually Disabled / Actually Autistic leaders to step up and into the demanding lead roles when the colonialists finally loosen their tight grip over the libretto? And will there be inspired, energetic and spirited Disabled / Autistic Artists left, after the exhaustion of advocacy, to take centre stage?

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Disabled People Have an Ally Problem: They Need to Stop Talking For Us

Important points very clearly put forth. Disabled Leadership can and must happen, but first, the ground needs to be laid. And this article lays it down very well. Read and learn!

Crutches & Spice

My mom and I were in the store when it happened. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last, unfortunately. It was a common occurrence, “par for the course” as they say. An acquaintance of my mother (my mom’s real friends know better) had walked over to us and started a conversation with us. Just normal things until she switched the conversation to kids, she looked and my mother and asked “what subject does she like most in school?” Despite standing right beside my mother, despite having been introduced to me by my mother, despite the fact I had nodded quite attentively to what she had yammered on about, she decided to ignore my presence and address the question to my mother. For most abled people, this may seem like a momentary slip up in decorum, but for disabled people this is all to familiar: proximity to…

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bloviation & the sacrificial lamb

My recent casual blog post, musing on Arts and Disability, and the devastating effects of non-disabled colonisation of the disability conversation, theory and practice in any field, with a focus on the arts, simply because this is my field of research and praxis.

“Perhaps it is time to take the entire conversation back and situate it on our own platform – the Actually Autistic / Actually Disabled stage. One that we choose for ourselves, not that which is designed and built by the non-disabled colonising forces. One in which there is no prerequisite social-political posturing of ambiguous, veiled or hushed up mumblings, no copious mists of gas lighting, and no contemptuous slime of condescension. Just honest truth and a light shining onto a path ahead clear of the debris of gurgling bloviation. Is this even a possibility, I wonder?”

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I learned this new word from my friend Rick. I like it. It has a robust movement to its physical form, flow and force. It sounds and feels like thick copious slimy globules arising from a pit of bubbling sludge. This word has a sensorial constitution that matches its meaning. Thank you, Rick!

“Bloviation” – such a proliferate and aggressively dominating activity in the field of Autism and Neurodiversity. Autism is a trendy topic these days, isn’t it? Everyone – from the housewife ‘AutismMom’ to the Professor in Psychiatry, and the outright quacks touting ‘cures’ and ‘healing touches’ mushrooming like unbridled viruses in between – seems to be dancing vigorously around the jolly campfire of Autism.The word makes me think of the many (I have lost count now, it is a long and wearying list) instances of having to silently endure protracted lectures, workshops, conversations, discussions, seminars…

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Upcoming Lectures – Hong Kong Feb/March 2018

I shall be in Hong Kong next week and a half delivering two public lectures. Friends in Hong Kong, please do drop by!

1. EMBRACING NEURODIVERSITY

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Embracing Neurodiversity: sharing empathy through multi-sensory immersive art.
Venue: University of Hong Kong, Room 4.34, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus.
Date and time: 28 February 2018, 4-5.30pm
Language: English
Contact: Ms. Zhang Xuehong – xuehong@hku.hk

Abstract:

Empathy is a complex concept: an abstract phenomenon that can be felt, but remains invisible and unknown to others unless properly conveyed. Each human culture has different ways of expressing and showing empathy. Nonetheless, empathy is an important part of human interaction and a key component to forming congenial relationships.
According to the neuronormative-designed pathological description, the autistic person is a social misfit without ability to form meaningful connections, in a barren mindscape devoid of empathy and creative imagination. In reality, the autistic realm is a rich and vibrant sensorial ecology teeming with detail, observations of minutiae, and dynamic energy; and autistic persons possess a different kind of empathy, an alternative connectivity that is no less meaningful than that of the social normative majority.

Autism has been scrutinized and defined by the neuronormative for almost a century, yet the normative realm has failed dismally to understand the autistic existence. Perhaps it is now time for the autistic world to show the way forward, with multi-art practice as agency, towards deeper empathic resonance across neuro-cultural divides.

2. AUTISM & ART

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Autism and Art

Another talk I will be delivering in Hong Kong, this one is at the Education University. The poster is in Chinese, as the audience in this one will be mainly Cantonese speaking. My lecture is in English with simultaneous Cantonese translation. There will be a show by autistic sand-artist, Sai-Ho Lee to open the session, and a Q&A at the end.

Topic: Autism and Art.
Venue: Education University of Hong Kong, Lecture Room 105
Date and time: 2 March 2018, 2-5pm
Language: English with Cantonese translation
Contact: csenie@eduhk.hk

Abstract:
For many autistic persons, life within the context of the wider social world is a difficult journey full of stigmatization and misunderstanding. How may artistic research and practice help to bridge the divide between neurotypical and autistic realms, to forge real and lasting empathic connectivity between?
對於許多自閉人士來說,活在這個社會猶如踏上一條充滿負面標籤和被誤解的艱難旅程。講者透過藝術研究和實踐,探索如何跨越非自閉和自閉特色世界族群的鴻溝,形成真正持久和具同理心的連系。

revisiting LaLaLouBelle

Musing on ‘making’ and the actioning of restoration.

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‘Making’, the act and action, is like a gently flowing stream of consciousness, a knowing of wellbeing. I breathe more calmly and at the same time there is a delightful sense of excitement like an aura wrapping around me.

I’ve been revisiting my jewellery hobby, after near complete brain shutdown the other day from frenetic writing and overworking the thinking machine. I needed that elemental connection with material and matter. And, as always, Lucy was a cooperative model.

Just uploaded more photos in LaLaLouBelle! Check them out if you’re interested in handmade jewellery for humans and furries.

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Space of Mind – Interview

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I was interviewed by Chloe Watson in this new magazine, Runway – Australian Experimental Art. Thank you, Chloe!

Space of Mind: An Interview with Dawn-joy Leong

“For autistic artist-researcher Dawn-Joy Leong, spaces are vividly coloured by scent, sound, sight and touch — sometimes overwhelming, even disgusting, at other times relaxing, harmonious, or gloriously amplified. Leong explores her heightened sensory experiences of the world through her art and writing, encouraging her audiences to engage with their own sensoriums, at the same time opening up avenues of empathy and communication between ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’”

Autism and the Arts

An excellent article by Katie Sutherland in The Conversation about Autism and the Arts. It is both a relief and a joy when non-autistic writers or producers etc write / make features that are respectful, inclusive and accurate when portraying or talking about Autism. Thank you, Katie Sutherland!

Featuring Snoosphere by Lull Studios, my two works, Clement Space and An Olfactory Map, and Thom & Anglemouse’s Rush Hour at Cloud Heaven. Please click on the link:

“Autism and the arts: making a space for different minds.”

Excerpt:

“Rancid perfume. Stinky babies. Sweaty clothes. Garlic hair. Human bodies putrefying and I think my own is beginning to smell,” declares artist and researcher Dawn-joy Leong in her installation, An Olfactory Map of Sydney, at Customs House in Circular Quay.

At times confronting, at times funny, Leong’s graphic description of the assault of odours while travelling by bus forms a series of video monologues about her sensitivities to smells, sounds, light, colour, tastes and movement.

Leong is autistic and regularly feels overwhelmed due to hyper-sensory perception. This can trigger extreme reactions such as nausea, headache, vertigo and sometimes excruciating pain. Through Leong’s work, the viewer gets a real sense of how exhausting having such a heightened awareness must be, particularly in a world designed for “neurotypicals” – people who are typically wired or non-autistic.