Artist with special needs, communicates biodiversity through art

            samantha2 A multi-talented artist who expresses appreciation to biodiversity and nature through amazing artworks—indeed, this girl is special.

Samantha Kaspar, a 21 year-old Fil-Swiss artist, was diagnosed with autism when she was just three years old. Instead of losing hope and feeling down about the diagnosis, restaurateurs Martin and Mitzi Kaspar, Samantha’s parents, gave her the much needed understanding and support, and helped her discover her talents and skills.

True enough, they discovered that Sam’s talents are immense. She can sing, dance, and play the violin really well. “What’s puzzling is that she barely talks to anyone. She speaks very few words but when she sings, she utters every line clearly and beautifully,” said Mitzi Kaspar, Sam’s mother. Aside from having all these talents, Sam is also good in swimming and ice skating.

 

Different, but special

 

Eventually, the world started to notice Sam and her exceptional talent. In 2017, the Center for Possibilities Foundation helped Sam put up her own art exhibit which featured 40 of her artworks which include hand painted fashion accessories and paintings in canvas. In the same year, Sam, along with seven more Filipino artists with autism were chosen to represent the Philippines in the Fashion Arts Autism Benefit (FAAB) event in New York. Their artworks in piña cloth were transformed into clothing by well-known fashion designers.

 

In celebration of the World Autism Awareness Month, Sam was also invited to grace a two-day interactive art workshop from 5 to 6 April 2017 organized by the Autism Hearts Foundation in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General at the Kalayaan Annex of the Philippine Center in New York.

 

Sam was also one of the artists with special needs selected by Banana Peel and Unilab Foundation to design a new line of slippers to be sold in the market.

 

Understanding autism

 

A person with autism finds it difficult to communicate and interact with others. Autism is characterized by struggles in communication, speech delays, and repetitive behaviors. Early signs of autism in children include: having little or no eye contact; having repetitive language or mannerisms; speech delay; and lack of interaction with other people.

 

“Some individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may display behavioral dyscontrol - having disturbances in mood (emotional) and thinking (mental) that may impair functioning in significant areas of life,” said Dr. Alexandra Jean Palis, a psychiatric expert.

 

According to the World Health Organization, about 1 out of 160 children in the world has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In most cases, the symptoms of autism can be seen in the first five years of life. People diagnosed with autism often suffer from other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, and depression.

 

“Persons like Samantha should not be considered as people with disability because a lot of them are even more capable of doing amazing things than most of us,” said Kenneth Sioson, Sam’s art coach. Kenneth is Fine Arts graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman. “What is rewarding about this job is having the opportunity to share to others that people with autism should not be disregarded; they must be given special care and must be embraced by the society,” he added.

 

Health and biodiversity

 

Sam and her family love to travel. They enjoy nature walks. After every trip, Sam would immediately paint what she saw in the place they visited. It is as if she would like to translate the visual images in her mind into paintings so that she will never forget how the place looks like. “She will make sure that she finishes the painting once we get back home. She never sleeps until the piece is done,” said Mitzi.

 

“Sam loves to paint sceneries. When she likes a place, she would paint it to tell us that she wants to go back there,” she added. Many of Sam’s paintings also depict nature and biodiversity.

 

 “A healthy environment is nurturing to our mental health. It is not only within our households; it also includes our external surroundings. Nature is part of this external environment,” said Dr. Palis. “Physically, our bodies are supported by clean air, produce that we make, up to the food we eat and this comes from our environment. A healthy body begets a healthy mind. Exposure to trees, plants, grassy fields to name a few; experiencing all of this first hand reduces stress. In mindfulness techniques, we are encouraged to connect with the stillness of nature. It makes us feel relaxed, a restorative process which we unconsciously avail when we are out and enjoying our unique surroundings,” she added.

 

“Biodiversity, as a subject for art, I believe, is truly inspiring and healing, and in this case, both for the artist and the beholder,” said the Executive Director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim.

samanthaThe national costume that Sam designed for ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim has illustrations of the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Red Vented Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), Turquoise Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), and Waling-waling orchid (Vanda sanderiana)

 

Making a statement through fashion

 

Sam’s current project is a Philippine national costume called “baro” with paintings of some of the country’s endemic species. This will be worn by ACB Executive Director Lim in the upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President of the Philippines, His Excellency Rodrigo Duterte, on 23 July 2018. The material is piña cloth, designed with silk paint.

 

I admire the works of Samantha that depicts nature and biodiversity, and I am honored to be given the opportunity to wear such an amazing work of art, said Dr. Lim. “This piece of clothing embodies a two-fold advocacy; to raise autism awareness and to promote biodiversity conservation. Causes that are seemingly unrelated at first, but with Samantha’s unbelievable talent, she can make the two mutually reinforcing,” she added.

 

According to the Second Edition of the ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook of the ACB, thousands of species are endangered and on the brink of extinction, leading to the possible loss of both endemic and economically important species. The massive loss of wildlife has led to rates of extinction that are considered at least 100 to 1,000 times higher than nature intended. All forms of wildlife face risks from the degradation of habitats through illegal logging, land conversion, pollution and others; overexploitation and use of illegal and destructive harvesting practices; and poaching and trafficking of wild plants and animals. These and many other threats undermine the population growth, diversity, and breeding and reproductive behavior of wildlife.

 

For more information about biodiversity in the ASEAN region, log on to www.aseanbiodiversity.org.

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The ACB was established in 2005 by the ASEAN Member States as a response to biodiversity loss in the region. The Centre supports and coordinates the implementation of activities in the ASEAN leading to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, for the benefit of the region and the AMS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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