Scheherazade’s Sea: continuing journey, 2021

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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 confrère Peter 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:

“It is not my purpose to ‘fix’ what is ‘broken’ but to empower beauty
in the vulnerable and unnoticed.”
©Dawn-joy Leong 2010

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.

COVID19: shutdown

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.

Continue reading

The Big Anxiety Project

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The Big Anxiety Project

The BIG Anxiety Project is an innovative citizen science venture developing creative approaches to health research and data visualization.”

Lucy and I are honoured to be a small part of this amazing project, which kicks-off on 5 June 2016, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 3-6pm, level 6, with this interactive talk-cum-discussion session.

Friends in Sydney, if you will brave the weekend’s wet and wild weather, please do join us at this interactive event.

If you are not in Sydney or unable to attend the above event, please take part in the Big Anxiety Project’s survey on anxiety at the Black Dog Institute: click here!

Autism and me: a lifelong quest for Beingness and Clemency of Being

Autism and me: a lifelong quest for Beingness and clemency of Being.

Guest lecture, 27 August 2015, School of Education, UNSW, Australia.

Thank you, Dr. Iva Strnadova, for inviting me to deliver this guest lecture since 2012. It has become an annual event I look forward to greatly.

I promised Iva I’ll tell as many personal stories as possible within the time limit, and so I shall. But before I launch into the dramatics, I’d like to begin with some basic terminology.

When I first began on my research journey, I adopted the prevalent deficits-focused, pathological perspectives and terminologies, because that was all I knew at the time. However, I henceforth prefer to use the term “Autism Spectrum Condition” instead of “disorder,” because this better describes the neurological culture that autism actually is. I also no longer use functioning labels – “high” or “low” functioning – as they are not only insulting to autistic persons, but more importantly they are based on a system of measurements that does not properly respect the innate autistic functional modalities and paradigms.

Now for my fabulous stories. Continue reading

Scheherazade’s Sea – autistic parallel embodiment and elemental empathy

Paper presented at UNSW Art & Design Postgraduate Conference, 17-19 June 2015.

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My Ph.D dissertation, tentatively entitled, Scheherazade’s Sea – autistic parallel embodiment and elemental empathy, is part of a protracted journey in search for Being: a detailed study of Self and Other, and examination of multidimensional interstices of dynamic, interactive reciprocities.

This research and practice rests upon three fundamental concepts:

  1. Parallel Embodiment,
  2. Endeavour of Empathy, and
  3. Space of Mind, from which emanates Elemental Empathy.

The theoretical foundation for this work is constructed from documented studies in neuroscience, anthropology, the arts and humanities, and personal anecdotal evidence from autistic individuals. At the same time, my artistic practice acts as concretising agency by creating experimental ‘sharable’ spaces that serve not merely to display autism but to invite dynamic, personified communion; connecting individuals across neuro-functional divides. Continue reading

Confronting the Invisible

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Guardian Angel

This is a musing about confronting, and the confrontation of invisible disability.

What happens when the invisible is confronted in a stark and abrupt instant?

A recent encounter inside the lift on my way up to my art studio brought me once more, eyeball to uncomfortable eyeball, with the conundrum of ‘framing’ an invisible neurological difference. In my case, it is autism – and this is an issue that autistics living in the normative realms are constantly faced with, because we exist and function in the midst of, and juxtaposed with, the ‘normalcy’ of neurotypical constructs and systems. Continue reading

Thinking Through The Body – a multimodal approach from autism

Paper presented at the International Conference for Research Creativity: Praxis, Baptist University of Hong Kong, 21-23 November 2012.

 

ABSTRACT

How should the artist approach practice and research without becoming so overly abstract that the grounded, proprioceptive concreteness of art becomes mired inside oppressive, draconian intellectualism? The reciprocal processes of researching artistic practice and practicing artistic research require actively synergetic, symbiotic sensory and cognitive engagement, the interaction and inter-reaction of the bodily senses with theoretical, philosophical insight and invention.

Sensorial contemplation, that is, “thinking through the body,” is an inherent trait of Autism Spectrum Condition. How do autistic sensory, proprioceptive and cognitive idiosyncrasies affect creative motivation and process? May the model of autism inspire a fresh perspective for research and praxis? As an artist with Autism Spectrum Condition, the aims of my paper are to provide an ‘insider’ view of how sensory and cognitive idiosyncrasy shape my creativity, and using the autistic body-mind model, suggest an alternative milieu for creating visionary collaborative research, and mutually empathic platforms. Continue reading