Neurodivergent artists collective breaking down barriers

Published: 06 Oct 2021

Bejewelled eye

Photo: Courtesy of the artist, Tzipporah Johnston - Amulet Against Eye Contact blue - Neuk Collective

A recent survey of neurodivergent artists found that 100% had experienced institutional barriers to pursuing a career in the arts. A new manifesto addressing that is being launched by Neuk Collective.

Founded in 2020 with support from Creative Scotland, Neuk Collective is a group of four neurodivergent artists – Robyn Benson, Dylan Esposito, Dawnne McGeachy and Tzipporah Johnston. Working in diverse media, and at different stages of their career, the collective members have come together to advocate for and make changes that support neurodivergent artists.

Structural and minimalist sculptures in a white walled gallery space

Image: Robyn Benson - There is no equivalent structure, 2018, Rhubaba Gallery and Studios - Neuk Collective, courtesy of Rhubaba Gallery and Studios, Photographer: Tom Nolan

They are holding their inaugural exhibition at Custom Lane, Edinburgh, November 20-26, showcasing the quality and diversity of work by neurodivergent artists. They are also using the exhibition to launch their manifesto for neurodiversity in the arts, and a guide for cultural organisations who want to support neurodivergent artists.

‘Neurodivergent’ describes people whose brains process information differently from the majority. For example, autistic, dyslexic or dyspraxic people, or people with ADHD or Tourettes.

The art world is particularly difficult for neurodivergent people to navigate because it’s really not designed with us in mind. There’s still prejudice against neurominorities and being open about our diagnoses can lead to being dismissed as “outsider artists” or “therapeutic”. We want this exhibition to mainstream neurodivergence and show people the quality and variety of art being made by neurodivergent artists.- Neuk Collective founder Tzipporah Johnston

The exhibition showcases the artwork of the four Neuk Collective artists. Helensburgh-based oil painter Dawnne McGeachy will be exhibiting her intricate, extensively researched wave paintings. Dylan Esposito (Glasgow) will be showing sculptures resembling utilitarian objects that have been rendered unfit for purpose. Robyn Benson (Aberdeenshire) will be exhibiting new sculptures and drawings that explore material tension and self supporting structures.

A structural chair like sculpture in metal and black paint

Image: Courtesy of the artist Dylan Esposito - Kitchen Cantile - ormica, Steel & Paint - Neuk Collective

Edinburgh-based embroiderer Tzipporah Johnston will be staging her installation, The Museum of Monotropism, which presents an autistic perspective of the world, presented as an homage to Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.

The exhibition staging aims to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone, with a quiet session for those who need it, a “chill out pod”, ear defenders, communication badges and materials in a variety of formats.

Sarah MacIntyre, Visual Arts Officer at Creative Scotland commented: “We are excited to support this project by the newly formed Neuk Collective and look forward to reading their Manifesto for neurodiversity in the arts. The project is a reminder that we all experience the world differently and that career progression is far from a level playing field.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic there is an opportunity to take stock and to rethink the systems that are in place to support artists, ensuring that they are inclusive and accessible. We hope that organisations will embrace the manifesto and guide, which will offer practical and tangible ways to support a shift in approach. We also encourage people to get out and experience the work of the artists involved in the collective in their first group exhibition at Custom Lane.”

Supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.