Malaysian artist captures journey of motherhood alongside her autistic son


Raimi depicts a memory from the early days of motherhood in an artwork titled 'First Gaze' (oil on canvas, 2024). Photo: Raimi Sani/G13 Gallery

Motherhood (and parenthood in general) is a wonderful, life-changing experience – but like all things, it has its high and its lows.

Visual artist Raimi Sani, whose four-year old son Luth is autistic, often reminds herself that “this too shall pass” when experiencing challenging times, which helps her find the strength to keep pushing forward.

Describing the quote as a “guiding light”, Raimi says it inspired a new series of paintings that delve into the poignant journey of a mother raising an autistic child.

“In This Too Shall Pass, the artworks capture the essence of embracing the present and finding beauty in the child’s unique growth and experiences. As the mother navigates the complexities of raising an autistic child, each brushstroke reflects her resilience, love and unwavering dedication,” says Raimi, 32.

‘Art has been a part of my life since childhood, with my mother serving as an art teacher and my grandfather as an actor, instilling a deep artistic lineage within me,’ says Raimi. Photo: Raimi Sani ‘Art has been a part of my life since childhood, with my mother serving as an art teacher and my grandfather as an actor, instilling a deep artistic lineage within me,’ says Raimi. Photo: Raimi Sani

Her oil on canvas paintings were part of the recent Works Of Bodies group exhibition at G13 Gallery in Petaling Jaya.

The show also showcased Raimi’s First Gaze, a snapshot of the moment right after Luth was born in 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, when he was placed in Raimi’s arms for the first time. From the soft, heart-warming memory, the series swiftly transitions into Battling Dreams, a stage marked by confusion and uncertainty, where Raimi’s sole aim was to support Luth through tough times, including bad days and unsettling dreams.

In Slow Approach, Raimi highlights how the connection between a child and their father unfolds gradually, depicting the slow, but steady development of trust between the two in what she calls “a profoundly moving experience”.

At Sixes and Sevens portrays the period of time when Luth was officially diagnosed with autism at the age of two. In the painting, Luth runs his hands through his hair in frustration, mid-tantrum.

Raimi’s painting 'At Sixes & Sevens', portrays her autistic son Luth in mid-tantrum, but it ended with a comforting hug, she shares. Photo: Raimi Sani/G13 Gallery Raimi’s painting 'At Sixes & Sevens', portrays her autistic son Luth in mid-tantrum, but it ended with a comforting hug, she shares. Photo: Raimi Sani/G13 Gallery

“Both my husband and I were unprepared for the challenges associated with autism, including meltdowns and sensory overload. Despite navigating through numerous tantrums and moments of feeling lost and inadequate, this series serves as a reminder to cherish the present moments, to be fully present for Luth as time swiftly passes and to view the difficult phases as valuable lessons rather than personal failures,” says Raimi.

“These paintings, like most of my artwork, are like diary entries, highlighting how I see my son – his character, his activities, his growth. It’s my way of preserving crucial moments from the first part of his life for him to see when he’s grown up,” she adds.

Raimi, a UiTM fine arts (painting) graduate, hopes that the paintings can also evoke empathy, understanding and appreciation for the journey of parents raising children with unique needs.

A balancing act

“Art has been a part of my life since childhood, with my mother serving as an art teacher and my grandfather as an actor, instilling a deep artistic lineage within me,” says Raimi, who’s currently based in the small town of Serendah, Hulu Selangor, surrounded by lush greenery.

In 'Battling Dreams' (oil on canvas, 2024), Raimi recalls a  challenging day, trying to sooth a restless baby Luth. Photo: Raimi Sani/G13 Gallery In 'Battling Dreams' (oil on canvas, 2024), Raimi recalls a challenging day, trying to sooth a restless baby Luth. Photo: Raimi Sani/G13 Gallery

Raimi has four solo exhibitions under her belt, including two earlier shows – White Knight (2017) and Prominence (2021) – at G13 Gallery.

She counts Kedah-born veteran artist Amron Omar and Bosnian painter Safet Zec among the artists she looks up to – not forgetting, of course, the master of light and shadows, Rembrandt.

As for references, most of the ones she uses for her paintings come from photographers, including Russian photographer Olesya Smirnova.

“It’s the way she captures how light touches the baby’s skin in her photos that intrigues me,” she says about Smirnova’s photography technique.

As a full-time artist, she has her hands full with her art practice and raising Luth, but her deep, abiding love for her son rings true and clear not only in her paintings, but wherever she talks about him.

Raimi in a recent festive season family photo with her husband and son. Photo: Raimi SaniRaimi in a recent festive season family photo with her husband and son. Photo: Raimi Sani

“I cherish every moment with Luth – he navigates the world of autism with such grace and resilience,” she says with a proud smile.

“Being able to see the world so differently is a gift. If not for Luth, I wouldn’t have realised that I have the same traits, only I masked it better. Not to imply that I am autistic, but the similarities between us is a discovery worth the years of confusion I went through.”

Another thing that strikes Raimi is how unique her experience with raising Luth is – “I recently came to the understanding that children with autism are each as unique as a fingerprint; not one of them are exactly the same, so other parents of autistic children would have a different experience from mine,” she says.

Raimi admits that it can be a challenge to balance her parental responsibilities with practising her art, but she makes it work.

“Luth is remarkably well-behaved for a four-year old, but he can be quite clingy most days – he just enjoys testing his mommy’s patience from time to time,” says Raimi, wryly.

“I usually paint at night after my husband returns from work and takes over caregiving duties. Luth likes to burst into my studio to give me kisses and cuddles, and sometimes he will join me – he has his own little corner in the studio. But I prefer not having him spend too much time in the studio while I paint, due to the hazardous fumes from turpentine and other substances,” she adds.

Through the ups and downs, Raimi is determined to take it each day at a time and embrace every moment.

“Autism parenting is a journey I never planned for, but I sure do love my tour guide – he’s the cutest,” she concludes.

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