The Everyday Revolution
Posted on February 7, 2016
Sophia Tan, SINGAPORE
Founder, Managing Director of The Everyday Revolution
A framed canvas sits in the middle of a room.
Swirls of red, blue, green form a kaleidoscopic flurry; their streaks and splatters made in watercolour beg to tell a story. At first glance, the story is whimsical and jovial, as bright colours often seem to have that effect. Yet, as it goes in the world of art, one must plunge beyond the colourful surface and swim with the undertow to reach the depths of its true meaning.
Is this all too esoteric? We stand in the middle of a museum or a gallery; across a piece of artwork on display waiting to be dissected, judged, loved, understood. Whether it is a portrait made with oil or water, or a figure sculpted by hand, it simply sits there, like a puzzle to be decoded, the worth of its maker’s story waiting to be measured. Yet somehow, we manage—to grasp, to resonate, to connect. And its maker—the artist—succeeds. Beyond the price pegged for its value—or the fame and adulation that may follow—nothing could be more gratifying than the connection made with another being amidst all the layers of our expression.
Imagine the world of a person with autism, a condition defined as a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, as well as how they make sense of the world around them. Fortunately, more progressive and passionate advocates are emerging and enabling opportunities for people with special needs to be heard, understood, and provided a chance to participate in society.
In Singapore, a social enterprise known as The Everyday Revolution exists for this sole purpose and mission. Founded by Sophia Tan, Roger Ng and Ong Shuying, and run by a growing pool of volunteers, The Everyday Revolution (or TER) aims to provide a common ground for the community and the artists connect and communicate through art as a platform. By organizing exhibitions and events with mainstream partners and collaborators, they are able to empower their artists to make a living and advocate for equal opportunity for the special needs community.
We had the opportunity to have a chat with Sophia Tan, TER’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, and learn more about the driving mission of the social enterprise, and the daily revolution of the special needs community in Singapore.
How do you define Autism?
I would define autism as a brain disorder where people can have some or all of the following conditions: sensory challenges (wherein one is affected by environmental factors: noise, light, the crowd); social awkwardness in relation or communicating to others; moderate to extreme verbal communication challenges, and difficulty to comprehend abstract or intangible concepts.
What was your strongest motivation for starting TER?
Ha! It would have to be my brother and his friends. I have known their stories and seen their capability to create great art. Although, on this note, I’m probably biased. In my work for TER, I have had to take some fierce critique from galleries about how raw and immature their artwork still is. Also, I had thought (then) that it probably wasn’t that difficult to find people who would want to work with these artists, or that difficult to organise events. So I thought.
Why did you call it “The Everyday Revolution”?
Everyday, because it is a challenge — every single day — for these individuals and their family. Revolution, because it is about using art to help change the way the public views and interacts with the artists we work with. It is The Everyday Revolution because change is made in the everyday work.
What was it like growing up with Autism?
From a young age, it (living with a younger sibling with Autism) made me question the biases in society. I would experience schools after schools reject my brother. I remember an educator saying that not every system could be that inclusive, and my brother was just collateral damage. It made me question the level of discrimination and ignorance; another teacher of mine had even said that it was perhaps only fair that my parents had one child with autism, as not everyone is blessed with everything.) But at the same time, it taught me that by having a certain attitude, it was also possible to flip one’s perspective and just see things differently — that, in fact, it is not as bad as those views.
I learnt to see and celebrate the milestones of my brother. These experiences helped shape the main philosophies of my life; of seeing what is good, of just “rolling along with things”, and being mindful of my judgment. A lot of people have it harder, and that one only ever sees just a single side of people; seldom do we ever know the entire story.
Most of all, it taught me about love. That all you can really do is just love the people you love and not define the way they love you back. And that’s okay, as they love you in their own way, and it’s not for me to judge that.
Do you think that people with autism are marginalised in your country?
Definitely! But I guess it is not more so, as “weirdos” are pretty much marginalised in any society. And at least, most people with autism (living here in Singapore) have a better chance at education and integration, unlike the plight of people with autism in many other societies with larger economic challenges or unstable social situations.
What are your observations about Autism in Singapore?
It has certainly changed a lot! We have a Minister of Parliament who strongly advocates for equal education opportunities, as well as integrating the transition between school-vocational training-work. I see more schools being set up, grants and policies that support people with autism (and other disabilities), and it (Autism) being less taboo within the last 10 years.
Do you think your country or the rest of Asia is ready to be more progressive and more inclusive of people with autism?
I think Singapore is definitely getting there. There has been quite of a bit of good press over these super artists (like Steven Wiltshire), and while it would be the minority of the autism population, it has given the condition a bit of a “mad-genius” rep to some.
What do you reckon would be the necessary steps to get there?
I think it’s not just the government, but also the corporations that will help enable the integration of this population. On one hand, there has to be sufficient educators and work coaches, and on the other hand, the leadership of corporations to allow for work processes to be redefined to include this demographic.
In terms of how I see my work at TER playing a role in all this: Perhaps through one of our workshops, or in attending one of our events where people get to create art alongside our artists, I hope to inspire people over a creative process to think differently. For them to challenge their own biases, to teach their children differently (from the norm), perhaps be an advocate in their own personal and professional life for people who might be otherwise “different”.
What have been the challenges in running TER?
The main challenge for me would be time. This is not my full-time job, and I feel like I should always spend more time on sales, getting the right partners, collaborating on more projects with designers, getting more artists, spending more time with the current ones, etc.
Could you cite some triumphs for TER?
I remember during one event a visitor had commented that the artwork on exhibit was very good and she was surprised about the artists’ stories; she wasn’t aware that it was in fact an art exhibit of autistic artists. And I thought that this was nice, that the artists were actually appreciated as artists first before any other label.
So, what’s a regular working day like for you?
It (my TER work) is squashed with my day-job work. Sometimes, I would have team meetings over lunch and dinner, and artist meetings over the weekend. There is also a lot of communication and coordination action on IMs.
What are your hopes and dreams for TER?
Right now, I hope it survives even thoughI dedicate so little time to it (laughs). Or, not as much time as I wish I could. Truthfully, I hope to continue doing events (both as an advocacy and as a marketing platform) and from there to serve as a collective where we help connect people with autism with creative skillsets to possible income sources and in the future, lead them to potentially suitable work enviornments.
Anything on the horizon for TER in 2016?
As we love collaborations (with fashion designers, product makers, etc) we are working with animal shelters this year. In fact, there is an upcoming event with Save Our Street Dogs, better known as SOSD, where TER’s artists will create a range of dog/cat related artwork to help find homes for cats and dogs, as well as share our artists love for animals with another community.