Easel does it as artists with autism hit the canvas in Cape Town

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Easel does it as artists with autism hit the canvas in Cape Town

Two passionate brothers strongly believe in showing the world the creative work of people with autism

Todd Pengelly


When Thulani Dube walked into Lindsay Henn’s office in 2015 and noticed the painting behind her desk, he was awestruck. The swirls of blue and red depicting a transition between water and fire were magnificent.
The piece was by Henn’s daughter, Nicole, who, he would discover, was just 15 and had been diagnosed with autism.
As he admired the piece, Dube was struck by a thought. “We should put your daughter’s work on display,” he said.
Four years down the line, Dube has done just that, thanks to a shared passion with his brother Mduduzi, who heads Autism Western Cape.
On Thursday night, to celebrate Autism Awareness Month, the exhibition opened at the South African Sendinggestig Museum on Long Street as a partnership project between the nonprofit organisation and the City of Cape Town.
The NPO supports people diagnosed with autism and works to educate the public on the condition.
The show, Artists on a Spectrum, features the work of 10 artists diagnosed with autism aged between three and 30. First among them was Nicole Henn, who has been named an ambassador for Autism Western Cape for inspiring the exhibition.
“No words can describe how I feel,” she said. “I’m just grateful to be a part of it. I’m still in shock.”
The Dube brothers also struggled to believe the exhibition had happened. “We can’t breathe,” said Thulani, the event coordinator.
Henn said she knew he would do something special with her daughter’s work. “People with autism need nurtured spaces. We need to do something for these people coming up,” she said.
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato said government needed to play a catalytic role in breaking down stigmas about disabled people. “This is their space, this is their world, and we must assist them,” he said.
Western Cape social development MEC Albert Fritz, whose department is a partner in the project, said: “We must remember those people whose parents don’t understand the [autism] spectrum, who think it’s a curse. As a government, we must create the space. We don’t keep talking about inclusion, we do it.”
Mduduzi Dube, who took over as managing director of Autism Western Cape last August, said the organisation aimed to create public ownership of inclusive spaces for people diagnosed with autism.
It was important to foster a culture in which people make a difference without expecting anything in return, Mduduzi explained. “This exhibition – it’s a start.”
At the gallery, visitors lined up to put their own brushstrokes on a canvas to create a crowdsourced version of Autism Western Cape’s new logo, which has been designed by Nicole Henn.
The artwork is intended to represent the mission of the organisation – an inclusive and community spirit that celebrates autism.
Autism Western Cape education and outreach manager Zaida Frank-Ebrahim said she hoped an exhibition of work by artists on the spectrum would become a regular installation, helping to destigmatise the community.
The exhibition is open to the public until April 11.

Todd Pengelly is on a SIT Study Abroad programme with Round Earth Media.

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