No stranger to clay, Shuhao first encountered the medium when he was a student at Rainbow Centre, which runs schools for persons with disabilities.
His teacher had suggested that Shuhao take up clay as he had a weak grip and struggled to write for long periods, recalled his mother May, a housewife.
Shuhao, who has autism, loved it so much that he finds enormous comfort in mediums like clay, plasticine or Blu-Tack.
He constantly moulds a ball of plasticine to self regulate and can make all kinds of crazy figurines modelled after his favourite TV characters. He recently graduated and has started an internship at a food manufacturing factory in Senoko.
In this latest project, Shuhao is learning the pinching technique from ceramic artist Chloe Tan over several Saturdays at her studio.
Despite being tasked to create some 40 ceramic bowls and cups for participants, Shuhao is able to complete the goal with ease. He sets his own five to ten-minute breaks with the help of a timer. Towards the end of each session, he gets around half an hour to improvise and design the ceramic item however he likes.
Stressing the importance of this free play time, Chloe says that it is important to give him free rein to express himself as well.
“He creates things that are in his mind. It’s interesting to see his thoughts translated into clay… Sometimes his work amazes me,” she said.
Chloe had her first brush with working with the special needs community during Superhero Me’s “Is Anyone Home” exhibition in 2018. She was paired with Zi Xuan, a young girl with cerebral palsy, to make a series of ceramic pieces centering on identity
“He creates things that are in his mind. It’s interesting to see his thoughts translated into clay... Sometimes his work amazes me,”
What was most memorable was learning how to “embrace imperfection,” said Chloe. As Zi Xuan had difficulty gripping the tools, they improvised to find alternative techniques to work with the clay.
“Clay is a very versatile material that encourages improvisation and exploration of methods to create. This allows Zi Xuan to safely and comfortably explore and experiment to formulate methods and steps that suit her well.”
Likewise, Chloe sees her role as a facilitator, where she shares the technique to Shuhao to hone his confidence in the medium. Most importantly, she hopes to help him express his own unique voice.