‘I knew this art was needed’: Autistic Mill Basin artist to share her work in annual art fair

Mill Basin resident presents art in Manhattan exhibit
Kemba Olivache has always been interested in art and starting March 2, she will get the chance to present her work at a Manhattan art exhibit.
Photo courtesy of ArTech.

An autistic Mill Basin artist will share her creations for the first time at one of Manhattan’s only amateur art exhibits starting March 2. 

Kemba Olivache, a 42-year Brooklynite with a knack for drawing, will bring her artwork to the Outsider Art Fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion. 

The creative began expressing herself at ArTech Collective, an art studio dedicated to helping children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities develop their craft. 

A former consultant at the studio recognized Olivache’s work as something special from day one. 

“I just knew,” Zena Gurbo said in a statement. “Call it instinct or experience, I just knew she would make great art. And when I saw her create it, I knew this art was needed and would be shared with others.” 

The illustrator takes a habitual approach to her wok, beginning each piece by writing her name and date across the top of the canvass. She then develops her subjects with the same pattern by first drawing a circle for the head, then adding in the arms, fingers, toes and finally the facial features. The artist allows her sketches to speak for themselves though her art instructors believe them to be memories captured. 

Gurbo describes the illustrator’s work as “raw, emotional, tender and profound”.

Mill Basin autistic artist
Her art instructors believe her work shares memories she’s captured.Photo courtesy of ArTech.

“Her art is rooted in her own story and the characters that populate her life,” she said. “The stories she captures remain a mystery for us to decipher. The characters, mostly female, seem to capture love and closeness; family feelings.” 

Verna Hutchinson, operations director at AHRC NYC’s Kings Highway Adult Day Center, says the 42-year old expresses a deep connection to her compositions despite her quiet demeanor. 

“Just look at her works on canvas and paper and you soon realize there’s a depth buried underneath the surface,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Kemba is natural. Her art, I believe, is rooted from her soul and it gives a glimpse into a woman whose creative expression comes from something deep inside of her very being.” 

According to a spokesperson with ArTech, the organization began in 2016 and has since expanded to all five boroughs with one unifying mission– to provide people with necessary tools to express their ideas through the creation of art. 

The group boasts over 50 artists who participate in their weekly programs.

This year marks the collective’s second year participating in the Outsider Fair which will present 64 exhibitors, including 12 first-timers like the Mill Basin artist.

“We try to find inclusive exhibition opportunities alongside professional artists, outside of ArTech,” Pola-Ana Mora, director of ArTech, said. “New York City has a huge demand for art. This sort of art needs to be seen beyond our community.” 

Olivache joined the organization two years ago and according to Lynn, her mother, she hasn’t looked back since often finding time to draw and enter “her own world” even when she’s not at the studio.

“It has guided her to this new level,” she says. “I am so proud of my daughter, the artist.”