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  • Chris McMillan

Children with autism express emotions with art


7th February 2022

Children with autism express emotions with art

We are a large minority group," a muffled voice rose from the corner as I passed by while visiting the Being Art Museum in Pudong last month.

My curiosity was piqued, so I followed the voice to a room in which lights glowed dully and reflected off mirrors on the wall to the accompaniment of the monologue.

It's a collaborative artwork by artist Wang Zhiyi and Xu Xiang, who has autism. In the shadowy room with the flicker of red and green lights, the recording of Xu is on repeat.

"When I look at the mirror, I find a man with the 'think different' mindset," he spoke slowly and clearly. "It's hard to express my feelings. Whatever I feel is like an explosion in my heart. Intense light and strong smell make us anxious. We wave arms or make noises when our attention starts to wander. We gasp or scream when we are excited.

"We are still not treated equally," he continued in a flat monotone, but there were overtones of a thirst for acceptance. "We may think and behave differently, but we love our home as much as you do."

It was not a wretched patchwork, but a subtle blend of the avant-garde with an elusive naiveté, which encouraged a contemplative experience.

"Amazing," a woman next to me said, taking a deep breath. "I hadn't expected such a high-quality piece of art."

Plainly, she was blown away by Xu's words.

"I think I need to learn more about people with autism," she told me.

As I reached Xu and told him about it, the young man in his early 20s got the giggles.

"I'm so happy to have my voice exhibited," he said. "I will go to the museum with my parents to experience the exhibition."

Xu is one of 100 "special artists" whose artworks such as painting, embroidery and ceramics are on display at the museum. All of them are students or graduates from the Pudong Special School which teaches young people with intellectual disabilities.

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