Talented Portsmouth artist with severe autism exhibits work in Paris and London

Rakibul Chowdhury working on his latest artwork
Rakibul Chowdhury working on his latest artwork

Every time Rakibul Chowdhury sells a piece of his art he buys a new item of clothing. If you look closely at some of his colourful, highly detailed, paintings a brown leather jacket with yellow stripes on the arms features – he can’t wait to buy that jacket. 

Raki, as he is known to his friends, is severely autistic, which makes the fact that his work has been exhibited in London and Paris even more incredible. 

Rakibul Chowdhury's latest piece of artwork which is on show in London through the charity Outside In

Rakibul Chowdhury's latest piece of artwork which is on show in London through the charity Outside In

He was completely non-communicative when he joined Right to Work CIC – an organisation which provides opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

‘It is not an exaggeration to say that art has truly transformed his life’. The simple, but powerful, statement by Debbie Lyall is something the 31-year-old’s family thought they would never hear. 

Debbie is the managing director of Right to Work,in Havant, which runs the Art Invisible art sessions Raki, from Portsmouth, attends three times a week. She has seen the difference creativity has made to his life in the past four years. 

He creates vibrant and distinctive pieces which showcase his love of celebrities and pop culture along with a passion for detail.

Debbie explains: ‘Art provides a wonderful platform on which Raki can express himself. It also provides a tranquil and productive environment which has enabled him to develop his artistic skills and manage his behaviour.’

In fact, Debbie adds, Raki’s family can’t believe the positive changes that have resulted from the recent interest in his artwork over the last 12 months.

Highlights have included Raki attending prestigious exhibitions which have featured his work.

This year he has visited a special exhibition at premier auction house Sotheby’s, in London, and last week, the private view at the Mayfair offices of investment managers Cerno Capital.

Award-winning arts charity Outside In, which works to provide a platform for artists facing significant barriers to the art world, was behind both of these exhibitions and also showcased Raki’s work at the Outside Art Fair in Paris last year.

The exhibition at Sotheby’s, Outside In: Journeys, was a celebration of reaching its 10th year and of becoming an independent charity.

Outside In: Discover, which will be on show until November 23, sees Raki’s work join that of two other Outside In artists – Nnena Kalu and Jasna Nikolic.

Raki’s work is a chance to illustrate his interest music, TV and celebrities.

The complicated compositions are often packed with famous characters, with muses including the Spice Girls, George Michael, superheroes, Madonna, and Lorraine Kelly.

Outside In founder and director Marc Steene says: ‘Raki’s work perfectly reflects our current obsession with celebrity and popular culture. His deep knowledge of fashion and celebrity lifestyles inform the content of his witty and often subversive work.

‘I think Raki’s unique perspective makes him one of the most interesting artists working in this area at the moment.’

Debbie reveals that Raki’s love of clothes, and being particular about his appearance, is aided by his artwork and plays a starring role in it:

She says: ‘As such he loves selling his work, each piece sold represents a new item of clothing; from sales related to his current exhibition he has his eye on a brown leather jacket with yellow stripes on the arms – if you look closely at his recent artwork, the jacket features on at least one of the characters.’

Debbie adds that Raki, despite being severely autistic, ‘relishes’ being at Outside In’s exhibitions: ‘Prior to the events his anxiety grows and he can become very agitated, but he truly enjoys the praise and recognition – he loves viewing his art when its displayed in beautiful surroundings, readily posing for photographs when anyone asks.

‘His confidence has grown almost beyond belief, his communication skills have developed, his demeanour changes into that of a confident artist who understands that he is talented and his artwork is enjoyed by many.

‘The Right to Work’s team stand back in awe when he approaches people to shake their hands and introduce himself,’ she admitted.

‘When he makes the approach to thank people for the opportunities he’s being given, this is not the Raki that first came to us four years ago.’

Outside In: Discover runs until November 23 at Cerno Capital, Sackville Street, London. 

Charity boosts confidence through art

Since its founding more than a decade ago at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Outside In has worked to provide a platform for artists who face a significant barrier to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstances or isolation. 

In 2016, Outside In became an independent charity. It has engaged with more than 5,000 artists traditionally excluded from the mainstream art world, 250,000 audience members and more than 80 partner organisations.

The charity has held more than 50 exhibitions and now provides opportunities for more than 2,600 artists to show their work at national exhibitions, has an active online community and professional development and supports.

Debbie Lyall says Outside In has given everyone a confidence boost: ‘The realisation that others value and admire their work has made a big impact, the dynamics within the group have changed and the sense of purpose has grown.

‘Each of our artists now believes that their work can sell, they understand that art is subjective and that they can and should continue to develop their own personal style of art as well as continuing to work on new ideas and themes.’

Go to outsidein.org.uk