Artist With Down’s Syndrome Whose Mum Claims She Was Told She Could Leave Her At Hospital Shows Work At Tate Modern

Artist Emma Anderson with her sculpture of Aerosmith frontman Steve Tyler.

An artist with Down’s Syndrome whose mother was told she could leave her at hospital at birth has had her work shown at the Tate Modern.

Emma Anderson, 33, won a competition to exhibit the paintings at the word-famous art gallery in London after a college teacher encouraged her to enter.

Mum Mirka said she was was told by a consultant she could leave newborn Emma at hospital because she wouldn’t “do anything”.

But after a battle for her to attend mainstream school, Emma went on to get a GCSE in Art and now sells her work at public exhibitions.

Emma Anderson age 33 with her mum Mirka Anderson age 66

Just one day after giving birth to Emma at the Rosie hospital in Cambridge, Mirka said she was called into the doctor’s office.

She said: “The consultant told me and my then husband she had Down’s Syndrome.

“She said ‘you don’t have to take her home because she won’t do anything anyway’.

“Until now I can’t digest it. Needless to say I took her home.”

More than three decades later, Mirka has directed a documentary – The Sky is the Limit – about Emma’s life, which has won recognition at film festivals in the USA, Chile, Spain, Venezuela and Norway.

In January, they were told the 25-minute film had won silver at the World Human Rights Film Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the pair will fly out in April to attend the awards ceremony.

Emma Anderson sculpture
Artist Emma Anderson with Some of her art work.

Mirka, who moved to England from Poland in 1972, believes her daughter was not given proper medical checks at birth because of her condition.

The retired speech therapist, from Royston, Herts, said: “She was released from hospital with a gigantic hole in her heart.

“She was puking over my shoulder for a month. I took her to the local surgery and the doctor said ‘put your ear to her chest. It’s like niagra falls’.

At barely 18 months old, Emma was taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where surgeons used artificial tissue to patch up the hole in her heart chambers.

Collect pic of Emma Anderson with nurses at Great Ormond St Hospital after open heart surgery 1986.

Mirka added: “It was very damaging as a mother who had just given birth to be told your baby is a useless piece of flesh.

“Look at her now. She’s a super kid.”

Emma, who lives with Mirka, does a lot of her painting and sculpture at the Rowan foundation in Cambridge, a charity providing tuition and studio space to people with learning difficulties.

She also volunteers at a nursery, where she helps look after the children.

“The kids adore her,” said Mirka.

“She’s special. She emanates positive energy. She’s got an incredible sense of humour.

“I feel that we should give these people a chance, not bundle them off to special schools and treat them as social lepers.”

Collect pic of Emma Anderson on Norfolk beach 1986.

Mirka said it was a struggle to get Emma accepted into mainstream education.

“I have spent 33 years of my life fighting for the fact these people have potential,” said Mirka.

“I managed to get her into a normal play group, pleading people to give her a chance.

“She managed mainstream education for 16 years.”

Emma, who has sisters Caroline, 41 and Sophie, 27, finished secondary school with a GCSE in Art.

But it was in 2005 when she went to Cambridge Regional College that a member of staff entered some of her artwork for a competition at the Tate Modern in London.

Emma Anderson’s sculptures on display in Emma’s home in Royston
Russell Brand sculpture by Emma Anderson

Emma was one of only two students from the college whose work was selected to be shown at the prestigious gallery.

The mother and daughter have travelled the world together, doing everything from speed boating to camel riding.

Apart from her artwork, Emma has another passion – Aerosmith.

“She’s in love with Steven Tyler,” said Mirka, who has been to see the band in concert with Emma several times.

“I should know all their songs by now.”

Mirka said she made the film – produced by Cambridge-based editor Juan Ballesteros – as part of her “one-woman mission to spread awareness” about the condition.

She said: “It has a strong focus on the fact these people are socially marginalised.

“Spend some time with them and you discover amazing stuff. But in this day and age nobody has time.”

Artist Emma Anderson with one of her paintings.

Earlier this week, the Church of England called for parents with unborn babies tested for Down’s Syndrome to be given “comprehensive, unbiased information” about the condition.

Prenatal tests for Down’s Syndrome have existed for a long time. However, in 2016 ministers announced that a non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) would be rolled out on the NHS from 2018, offering a lower-risk screening for the condition.

Kate Potter, of the Down’s Syndrome Association, said: “We are concerned that if this test is not delivered appropriately, the number of terminations of babies with Down’s Syndrome might increase.”

Gandalf sculpture by Emma Anderson

Mirka said she didn’t want to “preach” to people with her film, but hoped it would show the positive side of people like Emma.

She said: “People cried when they watched it.

“I’m showing it can be done, with a patience and tolerance.

“We all have abilities, limited abilities, disabilities.

“I treated my Down’s Syndrome daughter as Emma. She was always Emma.”

Addenbrooke’s Hospital has been contacted for comment.


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