Top 40 over 40.14: Susan Te Kahurangi King

Susan King pencil on paperThis series of posts is mostly about musicians who had growth spurts after 40, but today I’m posting about a visual artist I read about today thanks to Alastair Galbraith, whose records I very much admire.  I consider his album Mass to be among the finest in our genre.


Alastair posted a link to a TV story about the New Zealand artist Susan Te Kahurangi King, who has produced a remarkable body of work over a span of some 50 years susan_king_beach_446x366while suffering from case of autism which prevents her from speaking.  In the piece, the journalists interview the artist’s sister, who reveals that Susan stopped drawing at the age of 24 for a period of 30 years.  The cause was the denial of an opportunity to attend art school, an injustice that sent her into a disabling depression for decades.

Her work was spotted in 1970 by a lecturer a nearby art school in New Zealand after it had been used in a fundraising magazine published by a school Susan went to for students with intellectual disabilities.  The art school lecturer went to Susan’s school and told them that Susan’s work was amazing, and that he very much wanted her to come study art at his college.  Susan’s school refused to let her go because they said she was too valuable to them because she was making mats for them that relied on selling to make money.  They proceeded to take all of her drawing materials away from her to prevent her from continuing in her work.

Her family only learned of this offer and its denial years later when a friend of the lecturer ran into Susan’s mother on the street and said it was a shame she hadn’t been able to go to art school.  She began making work again in 2007 or 8 and hasn’t stopped since.  In the interview, her sister reports her depression has lifted and she has a spring in her step.  7272646This TV show calls attention to an exhibition of her work that went up in 2009.  She now has a wonderful website you can check out about her work.

October is National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.  In my work as a teacher, I have taught several students with autism who were phenomenally talented in the arts.  There are people with all kinds of disabilities – mental and physical, visible and invisible – that do great things if they are given the chance that Susan was cruelly denied at a young age, and then reclaimed years later.  Keep an eye out for ways to support them and educate those who overlook their gifts.  One aspect of her work that the piece mentions is its exploration of sexuality, which is a beautiful thing given that advocates for people with disabilities raise the denial and suppression of their sexuality as an important issue for society to address.


3 responses to “Top 40 over 40.14: Susan Te Kahurangi King”

  1. This is such an inspiring, thoughtful piece of writing. What an amazing story. I am liking Jeff Brown’s comments lately on Late Bloomers, a bit of which I paste here: “I find this whole judgment around where individuals should be at by a certain stage of their life ridiculous. Only the soul knows the path it is here to walk, what it has overcome, which achievements to measure its progress by. Nobody knows why you are here,
    except you. You’re the only one that can find that. People judge as though they have it all figured out, but their judgments often just smokescreen their own confusion. Are we late bloomers, or on-time growers? This is a personal decision. The important
    thing is that we keep on walking towards a place that feels like home.” Thank you for your music and your beautiful soul.

  2. Wonderful! I had somehow heard of Dipa Ma, but forgotten all the same. Rabia of Basra , a sufi poetseer, if ever there was one: From Die Before You Die ; “I was born when all I once
    feared – I could
    love.” This work almost isn’t possible until past 40 or so. It somehow requires the weight of experience and then the unraveling , unlearning of it all.

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