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Autism and Culture: On the Canvas and On the Radio

In our weekly looks at autism in culture, we often find ourselves turning to art as a productive outlet for individuals with autism to communicate with the world at large. This week we highlight a particularly unique Japanese artist who despite his inability to speak has found a voice for himself through his paintings of women. On the other side of the globe, we take a look at a Houston-based DJ who takes to the airwaves to spread awareness about autism

Starting off in Osaka, Japan, artist Yasuyuki Ueno was born there in 1973 and was eventually diagnosed with autism, never developing a capacity for speech. Since 2005, he has specialized in the Japanese tradition of Bijin-ga, which is a Japanese term for artistic depictions of beautiful women. This style was traditionally realized through the style of ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when artists carved sleek depictions of courtesans and geishas doing various activities in a floating world.

Ueno has revived and radically updated this style and has earned the status of an “outsider artist,” an individual who is not specifically trained or classified as a traditional artist but whose art is celebrated by the art community and exhibited in trendy galleries and even large museums. His twenty-first century take on Bijin-ga features colored pencil-on-paper drawings of modern day women who are as powerful as they are beautiful, with tiny heels and tiny purses to match.

The Atelier Corners is an arts workshop for adults with autism and they have given a platform for Ueno’s work, whose favorite color is pink and favorite character is Betty Boop, both of which feature strongly in his work. According to the workshop, Ueono’s work is an outlet for him to project his own femininity and reimagine himself as an alluring woman, with his paintings serving as a way to actualize his dreams. In addition to giving Ueno a crucial and fulfilling outlet for his creativity and original voice, his work also helps to broaden the art world’s conception of art and to encourage galleries to showcase artists who don’t come from the traditional art school background but who present a worldview that most of us can hardly imagine.

Moving from the canvas to the airwaves, radio host Paul Louden has created a successful niche for himself on the dials of Houston radio listeners with his show “Theories of Mind” that looks at autism and other mental health challenges. What makes Louden’s show particularly unique is the fact that Louden himself has autism, which he wasn’t diagnosed with until the age of twenty-two.

Now thirty-two, Louden has been hosting “Theories of Mind” for over a year, previously having a similar show in Phoenix prior to moving to Houston. For Louden, his aim is to educate his listeners about the day-to-day struggles that accompany living with autism, which he does not see as a condition to necessarily be cured, but rather as something that we must learn to integrate into society and everyday life. Louden’s personal experiences with anxiety and depression give his show a real gravitas as he seeks to enhance his listeners understanding of what it means to be an adult living with autism, making his a compelling and inspiring testament to how one can successfully make autism part of her or his life.