Singapore teen with mild autism created clay citiycape from scratch

Xandyr Quek created his first cityscape in 2011 with a myriad of materials after observing buildings, transportation networks and public infrastructure, as well as researching maps and working through numerous sketches.

Xandyr Quek is only 13, but his artwork caught the attention of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The teen created a clay cityscape model of northern Singapore.

PM Lee posted a photo of Xandyr's work on his Facebook page last month, garnering more than 1,200 likes.

"My husband and I didn't expect Xandyr's work to be so well received by people, especially our Prime Minister. There are no words to express how proud we are of him," said his mother, Mrs Agnes Quek, 41.

The colourful creation, titled City In The Works, is made up of clay, acrylic, metal, pebbles and buttons and is currently exhibited at National Gallery Singapore's Keppel Centre for Art Education.

Xandyr was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) when he was four. AS is on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum that can affect a person's ability to relate to others and interact with his surroundings.

Exceptional

Children with AS often exhibit extraordinary skills.

Mrs Quek said Xandyr memorises the entire street directory and even driving directions from Google Maps.

The mother of two said: "On weekends, myhusband will drive us around, and Xandyr will tell us that he wants to go by specific roads and expressways."

On many occasions, Xandyr, who would spend hours browsing through street directories, would point out a block of flats that did not match the pictures on Google Maps.

"I have to constantly explain to him that it takes time for Google Maps to be updated, and that the flats had been repainted since then," said the housewife.

Realising his penchant for art at a young age, Xandyr's parents sent him for art classes, where he first tried his hand at modelling clay. Mrs Quek expressed her initial worry that her son showed little interest in his academics but decided to support his interest in art.

"His room was littered with modelling clay. I had to scrape it off the floor because after a while, it became dirty," said Mrs Quek.

In 2012, Xandyr built clay models of Woodlands town. The family of four used to live in Sembawang but frequented Causeway Point. To further fuel his interest, Mrs Quek bought him a table so he has space for his work.

That was when Xandyr's tutor and social skills therapy teacher, Ms Nur Aisyah Churimi, 42, saw his work and decided to send a photo of it in a private message to PM Lee's Facebook page. "I've always known that Xandyr is artistically talented so I really wanted to create an opportunity for him to showcase his work," Ms Aisyah said.

Along with his parents and tutor, Xandyr was approached by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which subsequently linked them up with National Gallery Singapore.

No touching

"When Ms Aisyah told me that National Gallery has expressed its interest in Xandyr's work, I was stunned. But Xandyr was reluctant at first because he didn't like people touching his work," said Mrs Quek.

Director of Education & Programmes at National Gallery Singapore, Ms Suenne Megan Tan, said that the curators were intrigued by the colours, intricate details and Xandyr's personal connection to the subject matter.

"Upon meeting Xandyr and his family, we learnt more about his creative process, the level of commitment he has towards his artwork and his self-developed research methodology," Ms Tan added.

Addressing Xandyr's concerns, National Gallery Singapore made arrangements for a glass case for the clay model. "Before handing his work to National Gallery, we had to prepare him weeks in advance because that was his home project for the last couple of years.

"I had to constantly assure him that it will be in good hands before he finally came to terms with it," said Mrs Quek. Ms Tan said Xandyr's work has attracted museum visitors who enjoy identifying familiar buildings and places of interests in the artwork.

EVENT INFO
WHAT: City In The Works 2015 by Xandyr Quek
WHERE: Keppel Centre for Art Education at National Gallery Singapore
WHEN: Sunday to Thursday and public holidays: 10am to 7pm Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays: 10am to 10pm
HOW MUCH: Free entry for Singaporeans and PRs

fnawang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on December 26, 2015.
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