They are a group
of artists with autism, and their art could almost be classified as
art brut, a French term meaning raw or rough art.
Art brut was a label coined by artist Jean Dubuffet in 1945 after
visiting mental hospitals in Switzerland, where he was deeply moved
by the patients paintings and sculptures. He considered their
work, created outside the boundaries of mainstream culture, representative
of a more magical side of art.
China acknowledged a form of art brut in 2008 when the United Nations
established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, highlighting
the need to improve the lives of those with the condition.
The country recently held its first autistic childrens art exhibition
in a remote gallery in Beijings 798 art district. The event
lasted only a day. Viewers expressed delight with the imaginative
artwork, and more impressed that the artists were children with autism.
Autism is a developmental disorder that makes communication and social
interaction difficult. It affects about 8 to 15 people in 10,000,
and there is an upward trend, according to international statistics.
There are more than one million autistic children in China today.
While boys are three to four times more likely to develop the condition
than girls, no one yet knows what causes it.
Children with autism develop differently, and show their value in
distinctive ways. For instance, works by autistic artists are full
of raw, creative energy; theyre innocent and direct, which comes
from a pure heart. The style seems to suggest that we can return to
our own innocence. Although their purity and creativity surprises
us, it also reminds us of our shame: For too long mainstream society
has trapped, ignored and misunderstood the talents of those with autism.
As Picasso once wisely observed: It took me four years to paint
like Rafael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
by Zhang Li-jie
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