Overcoming the odds

Priscilla Tawie

Finding an escape through art

Reminiscing, Sue said, “For me, my diagnosis helped make sense, particularly of my childhood because I found it difficult to make friends. I was always bullied and I did not know how to talk to people”.

Diagnosed with autism, Sue added, “When I was a child, I remembered stammering, stuttering, and my parents telling me not to. I learned not to do it anymore, however, due to the stress I received after learning of my diagnosis, it returned.”

According to her, her body would react negatively when something that upsets her happened, and also at busy places like the supermarket or in noisy places with a lot of people. Fortunately, with the support of her current husband, she managed to overcome it all once relaxed.

“Autism is not something you grow out of, rather you learn to adapt to it. So it made a lot of sense in my life when I was diagnosed,” said the English woman.

Growing up, there were not much news and studies on autism hence there were very little information on Asperger’s. “I have always had problems with work and I could not work in one place for more than one year.”

Even so, Sue knew then that she was on the spectrum of autism as she studied the disorder a lot and had worked with autistic children before her diagnosis. When asked what motivated her to move on after she was diagnosed with autism, she said that it was the acceptance that kept her going. Sue has been volunteering for three years at a local art and craft facility for adults with learning disabilities back home in England.

Despite her disorder, Sue is an established painter with a Masters of Arts degree. Having dabbled in paper and colour throughout her life, she recalled a moment during her childhood, “My grandpa gave me a bird book for my sixth birthday. I would copy and draw the birds, and I had it in a folder until recent years when I lost it while moving houses.”

Always intrigued with the world of art, a determined Sue, a divorcee at 32, brought up her two children while immersing herself in art to get her degree. “My children and I studied together. They went to school, and I went to art school. It was a wonderful experience.”

Sue grew up on the outskirts of Suffolk, England, at Ipswich surrounded by the nature, which explains her always having a passion for both art and landscapes. “I used to play at the hedgerow, the fields and in the woods but in my late teenage years, modernisation came in and now there is nothing left.”

“Nowadays there are housing and industrial estates, shopping centres and it made me sad because the places I played at as a child is gone. I took it for granted as I thought it will be there forever and now it’s gone,” said a heartbroken Sue. Being intimate with the woods was what brought her to Borneo initially. “For 20 years I have always wanted to come to Borneo ever since I saw a TV programme in England.”

In February, she backpacked to several places in Borneo including Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Kinabatangan River and others. “I fell in love with Borneo Island and its people. I love the food here, especially the local green vegetables!”

The jolly mother believed that with driven passion, anyone can do pretty much everything. “Through passion, you should just do it! Do not let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. I desperately wanted to draw well, so I kept drawing.”

Evidence proved that her burning desire now bore fruits as her artworks are currently on display and for sale at the Autism Art Gallery located at Hilton Hotel, Kuching until October 27. Her artworks showcased her memories of on her recent trips all over Borneo recently.

English artist Sue Laughlin posing for a photo during an interview with New Sarawak Tribune.

Through her paintings, she believed that the landscapes have memories embedded in them, “And if you are quiet enough, this may sound crazy, but it will talk to you. Subliminally, you can access history and heritage because the landscape has always been here.”

For the intrigued minds, her artworks can also be seen on her website susanlaughlin.weebly.com or Instagram at @SueLaughlinArt.

Sue’s exhibition held at the Autism Art Gallery is in collaboration with the Kuching Autistic Association (KAA). Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to KAA. The Autism Art Gallery opens every Wednesday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and 11am to 5pm on weekends.

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