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Biennale-time Show of Art by Autistic Youngsters Begins Friday

In Kochi
February 22, 2019

Can minds affected by autism be into visual arts? How will it look when those with the development disorder leading to difficult social interaction draw and paint images?

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale will give a rare peek at the creativity of 38 autistic children and youngsters, by hosting their select works a ten-day exhibition starting tomorrow. The February 22-March 3 event at Dravidia Gallery in Fort Kochi will have 64 works by the artists ranging from ages between 11 and 32.

Called ‘Outside Art’, the show’s candidates have been selected by renowned artist Bose Krishnamachari, who is president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. A key organiser of the event is Ajai Vadakkath, father of an autistic boy.

“Outsider Art in this context denotes the art practice of autistic persons not specifically trained in formal art schools, even as they have neurodevelopmental issues and often deal with social exclusion,” says Ajai. “The art they produce may be outcomes of their non-linear thinking, obsessive-compulsive nature, stimulus over-selectivity and other attributes peculiar to the autism spectrum.”

Ajai believes that children and adults with disabilities are exceptionally talented. “Only that, they need the right platform to showcase their skills,” he adds.

Ajai conceived the biennale-time event in July last year, when he chanced upon some “exceptional” artworks by a few autistic youngsters in Bangalore. “Their ability in art was outstanding, but they were constantly being defined by their disabilities,” he notes. “I wanted their art being show alongside larger exhibitions hosted by big galleries or mainstream platforms.”

That was how Ajai approached Bose, who agreed to it. In November, an open call was made to autism organisations across the country for entries to the show. “We had got 230 applications,” recalls Ajai.

The exhibition, overlapping with KBF’s fourth edition of the biennale that concludes on March 29, seeks to give a platform to the artists to showcase their ways of seeing and expression to the world. “The idea is to create awareness about forms of creativity that exist outside of art institutes and accepted norms,” says Bose.

To Ajai, these works deserve respect as meaningful and intentional artistic compositions. “They do articulate something, and that something may well be saturated with hidden affect,” he notes. “They are formal constructs whose properties are sufficiently inventive and engaging as to widen our aesthetic experience in interesting ways.”

Anima Nair, co-founder of Bangalore-based NGO Sense Kaleidoscope that empowers children with autism, is excited that her 18-year-old son Pranav is participating in the event. “Art is definitely a viable option for people with autism. It helps to break stigmas about disabilities,” she says.