Photographic show to build awareness of autism

"We have learned to try to see the world in a different way."

"We have learned to try to see the world in a different way."

NO ORDINARY SHOW: Nga Taonga: Tairawhiti Stories of Autism is a photographic exhibition that presents a window into the lives of families who live with autism. Pictured is Keitha Brenton-Rule, who is fascinated by birds. With contributions from families who feature in the show, the exhibition will be the first of its kind in New Zealand, says CCS Disability Action community support coordinator Dorothy Taare-Smith. Picture by Shaan Te Kani

MR BABY Bird, Mrs Baby Bird and Baby Bird star in one of the pictures shot by photographer Shaan Te Kani to present a window into the lives of families in this region who live with autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has a range of conditions such as communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours and sensory issues.

Nga Taonga: Tairawhiti Stories of Autism opens next week at Tirohia Gallery in Kaiti Mall to mark autism awareness month.

It will clearly be no ordinary exhibition. Along with Te Kani’s documentary-style pictures, bird-themed art work by Keitha Brenton-Rule, and photographs by a talented autistic child will be included in the exhibition. Among Te Kani’s photographs are her pictures of 19-year-old Keitha who showed Te Kani the aviary, home to Mr Baby Bird, Mrs Baby Bird and Baby Bird, in her room.

Accompanying the photographs will be parents’ written stories of their experience of autism. The exhibition will not be just pictures on a wall, says Te Kani, the mother of an autistic child herself.

“A lot of our kids have things to do with the senses,” Te Kani said.

“My boy likes the feeling of textures. Other kids don’t like bright lights. We’re trying to make the exhibition a sensory-friendly and inclusive quiet place. It won’t be like going into a white room with pictures on the wall. It is not just an exhibition about these kids. It is for them as well.”

One family with a teenage autistic teen and a daughter who lives with a subtype of autism known as Asperger’s feature in the show.

The girl is fascinated with Korean pop music so along with photographs of the family, the display will include pictures of posters in her room and lightbulb frames around the photos to suggest a star’s dressing room.

An autistic young man who is a talented photographer will contribute some of his own images to the show.

“He has taken amazing shots of himself on GoPro wake-boarding and skiing,” Te Kani said.

“I was amazed when I saw them. The angles are awesome. He has a very good eye.”

Te Kani’s documentary style images are shot in black and white but offer an intimate window into families’ lives.

“I have been taking photographs for about 10 years but this is the first time I’ve been involved with a subject with such a strong kaupapa that is also personal to me.”

As the mother of an autistic child herself, Te Kani sees the exhibition as a way to provide people with an insight into autism. Each evening, parents will talk about their experience of autism in the family.

“This is not a seminar but we will be there to talk to people. We want to create more acceptance and awareness.

“My son has humbled me. We have learned to try to see the world in a different way. You have to wait and observe and listen to understand them. You have to slow down sometimes and to tune in to what they are seeing.”


MR BABY Bird, Mrs Baby Bird and Baby Bird star in one of the pictures shot by photographer Shaan Te Kani to present a window into the lives of families in this region who live with autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has a range of conditions such as communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours and sensory issues.

Nga Taonga: Tairawhiti Stories of Autism opens next week at Tirohia Gallery in Kaiti Mall to mark autism awareness month.

It will clearly be no ordinary exhibition. Along with Te Kani’s documentary-style pictures, bird-themed art work by Keitha Brenton-Rule, and photographs by a talented autistic child will be included in the exhibition. Among Te Kani’s photographs are her pictures of 19-year-old Keitha who showed Te Kani the aviary, home to Mr Baby Bird, Mrs Baby Bird and Baby Bird, in her room.

Accompanying the photographs will be parents’ written stories of their experience of autism. The exhibition will not be just pictures on a wall, says Te Kani, the mother of an autistic child herself.

“A lot of our kids have things to do with the senses,” Te Kani said.

“My boy likes the feeling of textures. Other kids don’t like bright lights. We’re trying to make the exhibition a sensory-friendly and inclusive quiet place. It won’t be like going into a white room with pictures on the wall. It is not just an exhibition about these kids. It is for them as well.”

One family with a teenage autistic teen and a daughter who lives with a subtype of autism known as Asperger’s feature in the show.

The girl is fascinated with Korean pop music so along with photographs of the family, the display will include pictures of posters in her room and lightbulb frames around the photos to suggest a star’s dressing room.

An autistic young man who is a talented photographer will contribute some of his own images to the show.

“He has taken amazing shots of himself on GoPro wake-boarding and skiing,” Te Kani said.

“I was amazed when I saw them. The angles are awesome. He has a very good eye.”

Te Kani’s documentary style images are shot in black and white but offer an intimate window into families’ lives.

“I have been taking photographs for about 10 years but this is the first time I’ve been involved with a subject with such a strong kaupapa that is also personal to me.”

As the mother of an autistic child herself, Te Kani sees the exhibition as a way to provide people with an insight into autism. Each evening, parents will talk about their experience of autism in the family.

“This is not a seminar but we will be there to talk to people. We want to create more acceptance and awareness.

“My son has humbled me. We have learned to try to see the world in a different way. You have to wait and observe and listen to understand them. You have to slow down sometimes and to tune in to what they are seeing.”


Nga Taonga: Tairawhiti Stories of Autism, Tirohia Gallery, Kaiti Mall is open April 4-6, 5-9pm.

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