Autistic artist empowers community through mural

Brendan Rees

At first glance, autistic artist Prue Stevenson’s mural in the heart of the CBD may appear to be a collection of bright, wavy lines with hand-painted messages.

However, the work, which took her two weeks to complete, is about celebrating human diversity. By depicting neural networks surrounded by her thoughts on a wall in Little Williams St, the Melbourne-based Ms Stevenson said she hoped to stop the stigma around autism and build an all-inclusive community. 

“The broader disability community can really struggle to access public spaces in the city,” the 32-year-old said. “So, I took that opportunity on so I could create a painting that’s very empowering to the autistic and neuro-divergent community.”

“To see some of my values and thoughts and experiences on a public wall in the city … it just makes society feel a little bit safer because there’s more understanding with something like that existing in the city.”

The mural, which stretches 12 metres by 2.5 metres, is part of the City of Melbourne’s Flash Forward program, a street art exhibition in CBD laneways for summer.

A total of 33 lanes have been transformed into creative and lighting installations, forming one of the largest revitalisations of laneways in Melbourne’s history. 

Ms Stevenson said she was “really stoked” with the outcome of her piece. “I hadn’t even used acrylic paint before. I was a bit nervous but being an artist I’m pretty good at jumping in the deep end.”

“Often people hear about or know about autism as being a deficit thing, being a bad thing and then to see big text to say ‘I love being autistic’ it changes people’s perspective and that’s really exciting.”

“I hope people continue the conversation that the mural is having and expand it and create more opportunities for the disability community or what I like to call the access health and wellness community.”

After struggling to fit in mainstream and special education schools, Ms Stevenson is proof that being neurodiverse is no barrier to success.

She achieved high distinctions in her Master of Fine Art course at RMIT, is an autistic consultant, an ensemble member of Rawcus Theatre Group, a third Dan black belt in Taekwondo, and founder of Stim Your Heart Out project. 

“I think studying art worked for me. I think artists tend to be a bit more open minded than the general population and it meant my perspectives and behaviours were encouraged,” she said. 

Meanwhile, other works in the CBD include five bold pastel paintings beautifying Stevenson Lane, inspired by artist Olana Janfa’s Ethiopian culture. 

Gumbaynggirr woman Aretha Brown has painted a series of four lightboxes in Meyers Place depicting colonialism in Australia, while a giant crushed paint can by artist Ling has been installed in Wills St.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the pieces were “the perfect backdrop for our creative city” •

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