SINGAPORE – There it was – a colourful chameleon basking in the sun at Gardens by the Bay, unveiled before Mr Jayden Ong’s eyes for the very first time last week.
The artist could not believe that his illustration had finally been transformed into a dazzling lantern measuring 2.6m in length and 1.3m in height.
The 20-year-old, who is on the autism spectrum, said: “I was blown away… this is like a dream come true for me.”
Mr Ong, who is part of the digital art programme at Art:Dis, is one of five artists with autism who designed the Our Secret Garden lantern set at Gardens by the Bay for its upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival event.
His piece, Multimeleon, The Surrealistic Chameleon, is among the lantern set’s five pieces, each representing a fantastical creature.
The hardest part was adding the little details of his creation, he said.
“I mostly like to draw my works in my own simple way, but I also know it’s important to add in the details in order to make my character stand out,” he said. “This is a learning experience that can help me improve my art.”
After graduating from a special education school in 2019, Mr Ong struggled to find employment. He applied for several jobs, but did not hear back from the employers.
He joined the non-profit organisation Art:Dis Singapore – formerly known as Very Special Arts – in 2023. It connects people with disabilities with real-world clients for commissioned work, so that they can earn an income with their skills and passion.
Mr Ong has also created artistic works for clients like Mori Official, Her Rise Above and Me2.
Ms Angela Tan, executive director of Art:Dis, said multiple tweaks were needed along the way to turn 2D designs into 3D lanterns.
These involved the suitability of colours used for lantern illumination, the structural feasibility of the designs and the cohesiveness of how all five artworks could come together as a set.
Referring to the artists, Ms Tan said: “As they are autistic, change does not come easy for them, but we could sense they wanted to do their best to give a professional outcome.”
She added: “They have shown that they are capable of adapting to changes with the right support and encouragement. We are so proud of their growth through this project.”
Mr Dinesh Naidu, senior director of programming at Gardens by the Bay, said working with the artists was a very positive and enriching experience.
In the past, the Gardens had also worked with inmates as part of the Yellow Ribbon Project, and with senior citizens from social service agencies to create lanterns.
“We are so happy to give them an opportunity to work on real-life projects and have them displayed at Supertree Grove, a high-traffic area, to provide more exposure for these talented artists,” Mr Naidu told The Straits Times.
“Gardens by the Bay is a people’s garden, and we want to build a shared space to bring diverse groups together,” he added. “We want to engage different segments of society, and this is embedded in all our work.”
He said that the 2023 Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations at Gardens by the Bay will be bigger and better after the Covid-19 pandemic, with nine lantern sets. Themed “Garden of Blooms”, the event will also feature a mass lantern walk with free lanterns designed by Mr Ong and his friends from Art:Dis at the Bayfront Pavilion drop-off point from 7pm on Sept 15.
Mr Ong, who aspires to be a full-time artist, hopes to create works that have a positive impact and inspire others, just like his chameleon.
Of his masterpiece, he said: “It signifies that no matter how different you look or feel, you are always who you are.”
Mid-Autumn Festival 2023 at Gardens by the Bay is on from 6pm to 10pm daily, Sept 15 to Oct 1. Admission is free. Get more information at gardensbythebay.com.sg/midautumn
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