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Now a platform for neurodivergent artists

The Art Sanctury seeks to create a space for neurodivergent artists and the creative expression of their life experiences

Detail from 'Convergence',  an acrylic on canvas by Siddharth Kalsi
Detail from 'Convergence', an acrylic on canvas by Siddharth Kalsi

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Each individual around us is ‘wired’ differently. While there are choices that we willingly exercise based on preferences, some of it also boils down to neurological conditioning. A recently-concluded art exhibition, presented by The Art Sanctuary, provided for an invaluable opportunity to understand the idea of neurodiversity. 

The Art Sanctury, a charitable trust, aims to provide a platform to neurodiverse people above the age of 16. The organisation is involved in skill upgradation through workshops, therapies, and social bonding sessions, while also showcasing works created by the young adults. 

Simply put, the term ‘neurodivergent’ expresses the different ways in which people interact with the world around them. “Neuron pathways in each human brain are different. This results in variations in thinking, learning methods, reactions to stimuli and behaviour patterns,” explains Shalini Gupta, founder of The Art Sanctuary. 

Also read: Two new exhibitions are connecting threads of artistic practices

The usage of the term itself has evolved and gained acceptance over the years, as a result of a long and challenging campaign fought by researchers, parents, public-spirited medics, and pioneering developmental psychologists to change bigoted attitudes towards individuals who had a diagnosis in brain pathology. 

The practice of art has proven to help balance the cognitive impairments. “As neurodivergent children grow up, they do exhibit a strong inclination towards the visual and/or the performing arts space,” says Dr Rashmi Das, founder of AuTypical™, a not-for-profit public purpose publishing platform for autistic art. She mentions an intriguing study by Nicholas Humphrey. In his article, ‘Cave art, Autism and the evolution of the human mind’, he put forth the ideas that the cave wall drawings were made by humans with pre-modern minds, who had no interest in communication. “He came to rather controversial conclusions after comparing the cave drawings of animals with the line drawings of animals made by Nadia, a non-verbal artist with autism, with no language and conceptual ability but with savant skills in art,” she explains. 

However, Gupta feels that art is art and works created by neurodiverse people need not be perceived differently. It does not need to be seen through lenses of sympathy or doubt. “After all, artists represent their life experiences, perspectives through their creations. Whether they see a straight line as it is or perceive it as crooked; or because of eye-hand coordination issues, they end up creating that line differently, it does not matter,” she emphasises. 

Also read: The visceral world of Lucian Freud

Kedhar R is a 22-year-old artist with autism, based out of Hyderabad. In his works, he captures the outside world as seen from within the confines of his room window. “I want to tell people to create a healthy world for everyone and embrace nature,” he says. A work titled ‘Underneath the tree’ expresses the fact that each being is unique. “A tall tree is as exceptional as a small shrub or a blade of grass,” he adds. 

For Siddharth Kalsi, a Delhi-based neurodivergent artist, colliding colours offer vibrant new energies. In a painting titled ‘Convergence’, he creates abstract images inspired by the flags of various countries. “I am merging flags of many countries to form a single image. I want people to see a united world,” he explains. 

Das feels it will take some time for art created by neurodivergent artists to be a part of the mainstream.  “Globally, it is still part of a category called ‘Outsider Art’ or Art Brut. Though it continues to grow with Outsider Art Fairs held in New York, Paris, and many galleries and auction houses like Christie’s featuring and selling works by such artists, it still remains an outsider art.” Gupta, however, asserts that this should not be a concern. “With nearly 20% of the population being thought to be neurodiverse today, maybe someone out there will understand and appreciate their art. But by getting these works into the mainstream, certainly an appreciation will build up for them,” she says.

Also read: Exhibition: Jitish Kallat maps the passage of time

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