The Hindu Metroplus, Print Medium Coverage on March 07 2019.
‘Outsider Art’, an exhibition of works by teenagers and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which recently concluded, is a laudable attempt to mainstream their wondrous expressiveness
When 15-year-old Ayush Bhambani joined Sense Kaleidoscopes, the first art school in India, in Bangalore, for teenagers and adults with autism, he was aggressive, had poor focus and a very short attention span. Three years into training to be a visual arts professional, he has been exhibiting and selling his works—rotring pen drawings and sculptures. This also brings him a handsome sum and, in the long run, provides a sustainable livelihood option. There are many like Ayush who seek the services of such niche organisations to channelise their neuro- developmental issues to create art works.
Nearly 66 works of teenagers and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) were on show at the recently-concluded exhibition ‘Outsider Art’ held at Draavidia Gallery in Fort Kochi.
An initiative mooted by Ajai and artist Prithi Vadakkath, parents of a child with ASD; co-founder of KMB, Bose Krishnamachari, Sense Kaleidoscope, Chennai based organisations—A Brush with Art (ABWA) and Sangamam, this one-of-its kind show was part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s outreach programme.
Five years ago, Akshayee Shetty set up Sense Kaleidoscopes with an aim to train individuals with ASD asvisual arts professionals through print and screen printing, lithography, theatre, sculpture and pottery making.
In 2016 Mala Chinnappa and Jyotsana Srinivasan set up ABWA in Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai with a similar aim—using visual arts to enable individuals with neuro-developmental issues turn productive and obtain a livelihood option, besides giving expression to their innate creativity. There were a few home-schooling and single initiatives elsewhere, that used art as therapy. All the organisations were looking for a broader platform to present the art of such individuals, in a bid to showcase the strength of these artists whose works have so far been excluded from mainstream art.
Explaining the process of teaching, Akshayee says that research from the field clearly points that people with autism have some or the other obsession, either with patterns or textures or a thing, often seen in repetitive action. The steps she follows is to simplify the context and generalise it for the mind.
“We take this element of obsession and make it productive,” she says, adding that each individual has a distinctive style, which stems from their obsession. After checks, validations and research, her school has also devised the first art curriculum to train persons on the spectrum and is now moving to policy level interventions.
Hence the nine artists of Sense Kaleidoscopes present a world of fabulous concepts, styles, colours and themes. Sakshi Chale who could not focus, read or write, but was motivated to work with her image was encouraged to do so on print. She is now learning to manipulate her images on Photoshop and Illustrator.
Kalash Cariappa, fondly called Buddha, for his quiet, diligent and repetitive drawings, has definitive works in patterns, Zentangles and concentric circles, filled in striking colours.
ABWA believes in catching them young, on board are kids as young as five-year-olds. “We try to nurture and facilitate the expression of natural art in a child,” says Mala, adding that by the time a child is 15, their artistic abilities are well known.
The organization has sent 11 works by nine children. From the talented corpus there is Vaageesh who is a master colourist—he can mix soft pastels and create vibrant combinations; Sanjay who can draw maps, cars, music systems, refrigerators, buses, burgers and almost anything he sees around him, in precise detail. Two powerful abstract compositions by 32-year-old Indubala and three works by 33-year-old Swami, with his signature line drawings with marker pen, are distinctive works.
The show has left a deep impression on viewers and artists. A parent drove from Chennai to be at the inauguration, while three mothers took a hurried flight to see their wards’ works hang in a show where the Biennale was presenting it to the global viewer.
An onlooker, KJ Cleetus wrote in an email: “It was a revelation to me what a wonder of expressiveness lies within these young people. Congratulations to the parents who have nurtured their talent. Indeed, in this group of people, autism seemed more a virtue that enabled them to dig within and find expression for an imagination just as rich as that displayed by artists not so afflicted.”