Exploring Asperger’s Syndrome through art and community

Artist Mahlia Amatina continues her series, bringing exhibition Life on a Spectrum to Culture on Call.

It’s Autism Awareness Month and nearly six years ago I received my diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. It took me around a year to properly process the information and diagnosis, and to truly understand what it meant within the context of me and my life.

To help with this, I reached out to what I had in my life at the time: my art and a former career in market research. I connected with other adults on the autistic spectrum (those diagnosed in adulthood) to find out about their symptoms and experiences of being on the spectrum. I did this by devising a questionnaire that then led on to an art exhibition.

An extract of the questionnaire that used mark-marking as a means to explore various autistic traits

Completed surveys found their way back from around the UK, but also from Europe, Asia and the United States. An Asperger’s community had come together to help inform the art. I compiled these responses to create paintings, videos and creative writings that formed the art exhibition ‘On a Spectrum - An exploration of Asperger’s syndrome’.

Painting 'It oscillates and moves, unpredictable’ (exploring the theme of anxiety)

Each painting came with a piece of creative writing that wove together responses from the questionnaires, as well as my own experiences. Below is an example of a painting that depicts the need for structure and routine, and the writing that went alongside it. Visitor feedback was very positive, as it was felt that the writing added another dimension to the visual art and made the messaging all the more powerful.

Painting ‘Structure is logical and safe II’ (exploring the theme of structure and logic) followed by the accompanying text

For those respondents living local to me, I invited some of them to be filmed to give feedback on how they responded to the questionnaire.

Joined by respondents with Asperger's syndrome, this video takes a behind-the-scenes look at the mark-making and responses to my questionnaire

I attended an NHS group for the newly diagnosed, and another monthly support group in my local area, to help me understand and come to terms with my Asperger’s diagnosis. This enabled me to meet others along the way; others who also spent their entire childhoods not knowing they were autistic, yet knowing, feeling, that something wasn’t quite right.

Along with my art, this connecting with others has been a crucial way to explore my diagnosis, identity and self. This collection of art work has been exhibited in community hospitals across Berkshire, where it is my hope that a wide range of people will take the time to understand the perspective of those on the autistic spectrum.

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