Superhero Me is a ground-up inclusive arts movement that harnesses the power of the arts to empower children from less privileged backgrounds and special needs communities and serves as a platform for social mixing. The non-profit arts group focuses on inclusive programming and training, creative advocacy and strategic cross-sector partnerships to shape the narrative of inclusion in Singapore. From its birth in 2014 as part an early childhood programme by Lien Foundation in Lengkok Bahru, Superhero Me has reached out to more than 18,000 people through a myriad of outreach efforts. It is a recipient of the National Arts Council’s Seed Grant for the period from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020.
At Rainbow Centre, we envision a world where persons with disabilities are empowered and thriving in inclusive communities. We work with our partners to create opportunities for persons with disabilities to make the most of their abilities and participate meaningfully in society. Through practical education, meaningful support and effective training programmes, we strive to increase the quality of life for them and their families.
Lien Foundation & National Arts Council
PEEKABOO! PRODUCTION TEAM
Project Director: Jean Loo
Project Manager: Chen Weiyan
Project Advisor: Tan Sze Wee (Executive Director, Rainbow Centre)
Project Team (Rainbow Centre): Michelle Ong (Principal, Margaret Drive School), Lilian Ong, Zhang Ningxin, Mandy Koh, Veronica Lim (Family Life Services), Moses Ku & Gail Tan (Communications, Partnerships & Engagement), Mark Gan (Planning & Organisational Excellence), Abdul Rahmat bin Abdul Rahman (Operations)
Space Design & Production: Joseph Nair & Xu Jingyi
Artists-in-Residence: UYII, Ian Loy, Quek Hong Shin, Ng Fongyee, Danielle Tay, Rolypoly Family
Journalist-in-Residence: Toh Ee Ming
Media & Advocacy Team: Yang Huiwen, Ong Boon Kok, Alvin Toh, Marvin Tang, Alfred Lau, Alex Lim, Lim Hwee Hwee
Captains: Joyce Teo, Amy Wong, Lew Yi Xuan, Keryna Chandra, Sarah Buxton, Iris Sin, Jovan Neo, Loh Yong Sheng, Koh Jia Jin, Zhang Ludi, Mui Rui Yi, Cherie Leck, Ng Cher Kee, Susanne Goh, Andrienna Chay, Rachel Yap, Priscilla Foo, Jill Tan, Cai Lize, Sharn Lim, Iffah Rusyda Bte Azmi
The Body Electric
In THE BODY ELECTRIC, children of mixed abilities express their personhood through the provisions of dance improvisation, revealing the myriad of movement that emerges from the bodies and selves of the children. There is time and space for the children’s movements – whether deliberate or involuntary, large or minute, fast or slow, by design or by impulse, original or learnt. The videos, portraits and drawings documented through the dance improvisation sessions are a way into the inner worlds of the children and a mirror for us to reflect back to them the legitimacy of their bodies and the sacredness of their beings.
The project had two strands: a 3-part series of dance improvisation sessions for children at the Rainbow Centre schools, and a more intimate Saturday group of budding dance makers and performers from various schools. You are invited to witness the children’s bodies in motion through the documentation and to contemplate that which runs and swells within you.
By Rolypoly Family (Faye Lim, Bernice Lee, Felicia Lim) with live music by Yong Kailin.
Universe of Feelings
No two journeys to outer space are alike for space explorers.
At the UNIVERSE OF FEELINGS, each journey begins with children suiting up before they launch into space. They meet the Sad Comet on the way to Happy Star, travel past an Angry Asteroid Storm in order to reach the Calm Moon and finally crawl through the Scary Black Hole and arrive back on the Brave Earth.
While traditional storytelling relies strongly on the storyteller, this project aims to push the boundaries of the art form by allowing children to move with their bodies through a story arc, experience an environmental change with the help of props and make art as a reaction to articulate their feelings. We aspired to build a parallel universe where they, as individuals with unique ways of communication, can access feelings and express their personalities or simply – communicate. A simple dot, line or space on paper, while often overlooked reveals more about a child’s inner world than words can. If only we look closer and listen harder.
By Quek Hong Shin, Author & Illustrator
The Story of the Sky
For children with disabilities, assistive technology is a key to unlock their potential within and enable them to participate more fully in all aspects of life. STORY OF THE SKY aims to shine the spotlight on the creativity and personalities of children at Rainbow Centre. As individuals who are minimally verbal, they run the risk of being overlooked since they communicate differently from the rest of us. My practice, which explores the intersection between art and technology, aims to build a collective confidence among this community of children to develop a stronger sense of self.
Through exploring technology such as eye-gazing software, body movement tracking programmes and music making through touch, I hope to open possibilities for these children beyond what traditional art-making can do. The opportunity to create should be viewed a right. Technology – and community support – must do justice to augment their abilities.
By Fong Yee, Artist
Should we blend in? Or do we stand out?
As individuals living within a society, we consciously or unconsciously make this choice everyday. We were told a story of a young man with special needs who carried a history textbook to school everyday. His teacher offered him more books on the topic, only to discover that the textbook was his guise, so his neighbourhood football kakis were unaware that he did not attend a mainstream school like them.
CAMOUFLAGE is an imaginary forest, where children and adults can choose to blend in within the trees and leaves, or stand out. It is made up of the collective work of many children from Rainbow Centre, teachers, captains and our family, including our 5-year-old son, Ruiyang, who is from another school but was excited to make new friends.
Painting can be a “dangerous” activity, messy, dirty, yet colorful and very liberating. As parents, we manage our anxiety for the “mess” by scheduling painting before shower time. Seeing our son develop fine motor skills while handling various painting tools and mediums, and watching him engrossed in his storytelling world within his artwork, it reinforces our belief that painting as a process offers a possibility of expression, a language not unlike the spoken one. Through this artwork, we want to offer a safe space, for kids to enjoy dragging, combing, stamping, rolling the mess that is, Paint, without the stress of a beautiful “end result”. It is through this experience, that we learn about ourselves, each other and the world around us.
By UYII (Chan Liping & Benny Ng), Textile Studio
What I Really Want to Say
Giving care for a child with special needs is a lifelong journey for parents. And for domestic helpers, it is often a weight greater than they can bear.
WHAT I REALLY WANT TO SAY seeks to break down barriers between Rainbow Centre’s community of caregivers and typical Singaporeans to encourage more empathy and understanding of their journey. Through three runs of small-group art workshops, where conversation over art served to empower participants to share their stories, they expressed joy, sorrows, frustrations and hopes of societal acceptance in a safe space.
Our process started at Rainbow Centre’s Glasshouse, a facility designed for caregivers to rest. From conversations around the table where we learnt about the food and items that symbolised caregiving routines, we explored tree sketching and stitching a visual sense of their lives. Beyond society’s glorification of caregivers as pillars of strength, perhaps the question we should ask is what role we can play in offering pods of support and the right for rest.
By Danielle Tay, Visual Artist
What Dreams May Come
To be a baker, bus driver. Open a nasi padang store or make a living as a caricature artist. To attain independence and have friends. What is the good life for a young person (who happens to have special needs)?
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME is a performance art piece built on the aspirations of a class of young adults from Rainbow Centre, Margaret Drive School who will graduate this year. Intimate with a sense of humour, the performance is based on a process where I got to know the lives of these young adults and befriend them, along with a group of Superhero Me captains. The process of getting here was built on relationships nurtured over the last few months as we scrambled to piece a puzzle of these students’ lives through conversations with them, learning of their plans after leaving Rainbow Centre, interviews with their parents about their childhood, learning about their routines from teachers and practising dramatic theatre exercises designed to build their confidence and capacity for expression.
Working with these students is a humbling experience. Although I have worked with several organisations in the special-needs community, this particular one takes the cake as it gives me the space to build relationships, engaging their desires and to create something of value to them, not just me. This is their project and I am helping them with my meagre knowledge to enable them to tell the story of their pursuits. Everyone deserves a go in life.
Artist: Ian Loy, Theatre maker, My Superfuture Theatre
Free 90-minute interactive art tours will take visitors on a journey through six artworks developed by Superhero Me artists with the Rainbow Centre community. Centering around the childhood game, “PEEKABOO (I see you)!”, the festival aims to use art as a channel to bridge the public and special-needs community, by inviting typical families to experience the creativity of children with special needs. Tours only run on Saturdays (9, 16, 23, 30 Mar) at 1030am, 1130am and 2pm. We strongly encourage interested visitors to reserve a tour slot. Limited slots will be reserved for walk-in visitors. There is no age limit and everyone is welcome to enjoy PEEKABOO!
Inclusive Arts Workshops and Camps run every Saturday and through the school holidays, led by Superhero Me artists. Designed to allow children with and without special needs to interact, they focus on creative confidence and changing perspectives on differences.
In conjunction with PEEKABOO! Superhero Me is proud to present a lecture series by Dr Alice Fox, Deputy Head of the School of Art at the University of Brighton where she founded its pioneering MA Inclusive Arts Practice, which creates radically new forms of collaboration between students and excluded community groups from around the world, to share the inclusive arts approach to art-making, programme design and community building. This is suitable for artists, educators and creatives interested in joining Superhero Me or adopting inclusive art programmes.
On weekdays from 11-13 March & 25 – 29 March, we run facilitated workshops for groups designed to cultivate a positive first experience between children of different needs through teamwork and art making. Tours are based on the story of PEEKABOO, expressed through six artworks and run twice a day for children from 10am – 12pm and 2pm – 4pm. Tours cost $10 per child.
Saturdays in March: 9, 16, 23, 30 March 1030am – 330pm
Mondays – Fridays: School groups only
FOR SCHOOL GROUPS:
On weekdays from 11-13 March & 25 – 29 March, we run scheduled group tours twice a day for children from 930am – 1130am and 130pm – 330pm. Please email email@example.com enquire on tour availability.
Process in Progress
The inspiration for this arts residency came from wanting to build deeper relationships with the children with disabilities who were attending our inclusive arts workshops. In 2017, we met Javier Yeo, 10, from Rainbow Centre, who invited us to come to his school. Rainbow Centre welcomed us with open arms as the idea germinated.
We launched a call for captains, who are the engine of our movement. They come from all walks of life and are attached to us for four months to see through a project. A strong team culture enables them to form fast friendships as they commit to developing skills to work with the community, develop a sense of social justice towards inclusion and take that spirit of advocacy forward
Our process began with classroom observations, trainings in disability awareness and understanding children with special needs. We trained ourselves in programme, space, team and personal readiness and the inclusive arts approach, which puts the children who work with us in positions of power. We see them as equals, not beneficiaries. In fact, we have gained far more in expanding our notion of creativity, exploring new ways to connect them with the public and building our collective confidence in facilitating inclusive experiences.
Advocacy is another aspect of how we work, as we experiment with the use of media to enable the children and parents we work with to self advocate and develop a message they own. To put a face to the cause and a name to a face requires courage, and we are grateful to be part of their lives and community.
“The Making of Peekaboo!” documentary film is in the works.
Rainbow Centre, 501 Margaret Drive S149306
By car: Parking is available at Rainbow Centre or nearby public car parks
By public transport: Queenstown MRT (EW19) & Buses 32, 122
Singapore has a long way to go in becoming a truly inclusive society, where all children, regardless of ability, can grow to achieve their full potential, and be as self-reliant, productive and meaningfully engaged as they possibly can be.
The Lien Foundation’s Inclusive Attitudes survey in 2016 found that only 30 per cent of 1,000 respondents felt Singapore was an inclusive society. Nearly two-thirds polled said they were willing to share spaces with children with special needs, but were not willing to interact with them. Almost half of parents of children with special needs faced difficulties enrolling their children in preschools, while only 36 per cent of respondents felt that teachers were adequately trained to support their children. Indeed, many children with special needs lead lives of minimal promise and thwarted potential even as they struggle to find acceptance in a high-achieving country where children are lauded for their stellar exam grades all over the world.
We must raise our expectations and develop more optimistic convictions about the abilities of children with special needs. After all, human development is plastic and a function of practice, training, motivation and stimulation.
Beyond efforts to change attitudes towards children with special needs, it’s also time to consider educational reform, so hopefully some day, all children can learn and play together, regardless of their abilities. In fact, research has shown that the early years are an opportune time to educate children about diversity and those in inclusive classrooms typically score higher on social and emotional behaviours.Building a fair and inclusive Singapore is frequently cited as a national goal, where every child matters and no one gets left behind. It’s time to make this rhetoric a reality.
PARENTS FOR PARENTS is a community-led initiative to empower caregivers and push for progress on inclusion. It aims to impart practical skills for parents, nurture self advocacy and build community resilience. This initiative will launch in conjunction with PEEKABOO!
The journey towards an inclusive Singapore where children with special needs can someday thrive with their peers requires not just public acceptance, but an active community of parent advocates to bridge the special needs community and the public. One of the greatest benefits of advocacy is that it produces lasting improvements for all children. Other countries such as Canada, which is a pioneer in inclusive education, has benefitted from a strong legacy left by parents who began advocating for access to education for their children more than 50 years ago.
PARENTS for PARENTS involves
Media stories of 10 caregivers of children with special needs who have initiated projects to push for progress on inclusion and benefit the community at large.
4 parent-led workshop panels alongside concurrent inclusive art workshops run by Superhero Me for children of different abilities to socialise.
4 family portraiture sessions to rally more families to join the movement.
PEEKABOO! is an inclusive arts festival boldly reinventing classic hide-and-seek.
Its mission: Bring children alien to each other, together. Set in Rainbow Centre, a school that serves children with disabilities, this festival for all is a labour of love born from a five-month arts residency programme involving six artists, 20 arts facilitators and the community to explore themes of identity and place in the world.
In partnership with
Journalist in Residence
This series of stories was produced as part of Superhero Me’s inclusive art residency at Rainbow Centre from Nov 2018 – Apr 2019 as we deep dived into its community to learn how it works and why it is on a drive to improve how it serves children with disabilities.