Last weekend, the Dubai World Trade Centre played host to the landmark 10th edition of World Art Dubai (WAD), a gathering that attracted thousands of art enthusiasts and creatives. Organised in collaboration with Dubai Culture, the event unfolded as a celebration of artistry and culture, drawing visitors from all walks of life.

In the bustling halls of the art extravaganza, amidst the canvases and conversations, one exhibition stood out, not just for its artistic abilities but also for the story it told. More than just a display of surrealistic masterpieces, Spectro Lucid Art, put together by first-time curator Carlo Garrido, was a celebration of diversity, creativity, and advocacy.

Carlo Garrido, a businessman and psychotherapist residing in Dubai since 2005, never imagined himself as an art curator. However, his deep passion for the arts and his personal journey as an individual on the autism spectrum led him to embark on a remarkable venture. “I've been into art since I was young,” Carlo explains. “When I came to Dubai, I started collecting art, and it eventually grew into a personal collection.”

Driven by his love for surrealism, Carlo recently curated an exhibition centred around two themes: steam punk and feminism, all under the overarching umbrella of surrealism. Steam punk, a sub-genre of science fiction, fascinated Carlo for its anachronistic blend of past and future. “Steam punk brings the future into the past,” he elaborates, “For example, if you consider the concept of the flying vehicles in the 18th or 19th century, it’s a misplacement of time. A lot of Hollywood movies draw from this idea.”

The title of the exhibition, Spectro Lucid, holds deep significance, Carlo says. “‘Spectro’ because half of the artists, including me, are on the autism spectrum,” he shares. “And ‘lucid’ because of the creativity. I'm a lucid dreamer, and many of the other artists are too.”

Carlo possesses the unique ability to control his dreams with remarkable precision. When he dreams of pleasant scenarios, he can extend it and when it’s a nightmare he doesn’t want to entertain, he can even shorten the dream as he sees fit. “I dream very vividly, and I'm always aware that I'm dreaming.”

Carlo's unconventional journey as a curator is what has led him to this milestone, gathering a community of Filipino artists — four of whom are on the autism spectrum like him — providing a platform for their unique talents. “I wanted to create an opportunity for people to showcase their skills, especially those on the spectrum. I'm autistic myself, although most of my friends and family don't think I am. They feel like I'm ‘normal’.”

“But I don't think it's a disability; it's a superpower,” says Carlo, who was officially diagnosed with the condition last year. “So it's been a personal mission of mine to spread awareness about autism.”

However, the diagnosis was just an official confirmation for something he had already known for many years. “I’ve always known I'm autistic,” he shares. “I had certain habits growing up. For example, visually, I'm very sensitive to colours. That's probably contributed a lot to my artistic eye; I notice details. I have some repetitive behaviours. Even right now, as we speak, I'm rubbing my knees repeatedly. It's more like assurance for me that I'm safe, that I'm here.”

These are some ways in which Carlo reassures himself when his condition starts to overwhelm him. “I know it's my autism that's making me sensitive to these things. But I'm proud of it. I'm very proud of the things I have achieved and I’m proud of being on the spectrum because I've turned it into a strength.”

Through his art initiative, Carlo aims to inspire more individuals to seize control of their destinies, rather than allowing their condition to define their lives. “I have friends whose kids are on the spectrum, and they're really worried. I said, “I didn't start talking until I was seven years old. It wasn't the end of the world”. You can’t let the condition dictate your abilities,” he says.

The exhibition serves as a testament to the incredible talent and diversity within the autism community, with each artwork, meticulously detailed and rich with imagination, reflecting the unique experiences of its creator. “Autistic people tend to hyper-focus on things we like,” Carlo explains. “Our artworks are highly detailed, and visitors spend time examining them. There's a lot of other beautiful artworks here in World Art Dubai. Some are big artworks, but ours are big and detailed.”

Collaborating with fellow artists on the spectrum was also an enriching experience, mentions Carlo. “Everything went smoothly,” he recalls. “We were all doing this for the same purpose – to share our art and raise awareness. It was not about selling; it was about getting our art out. It was a huge bonus that we also sold.”

“However, it was more about enjoying art and exhibiting our emotions and imaginations on canvas,” says Carlo, adding that through this initiative, he wants to challenge stereotypes and foster understanding.

“The biggest challenge is spreading awareness. There’s an image created about those people with autism, that we can’t talk, we can’t communicate well, we can’t really function in many things. This couldn’t be further from the truth,” he adds.

“People on the spectrum are just as talented as those who are not, and we excel in every field, not just in arts. Many of the most successful people are autistic—whether in business, sports, art, or music. We’re here to show the world that we can perform,” says Carlo.

His journey from collector to curator serves as a powerful reminder that art has the power to transcend barriers and change lives. “When people understand us better, we will get more opportunities. We won’t get judged and will be treated equally.”

Looking to the future, the art curator remains committed to his advocacy, both in promoting art appreciation and raising awareness about autism. “I'll keep doing this for as long as I can,” he affirms. "Because I know how fun, encouraging, and inspiring it can be.”

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