Kudos! India Art Fair Opens Art to Touch of the Visually Impaired

This is heart-warming: India Art Fair has made its space wheelchair-friendly and welcoming to the visually impaired.

Published
Lifestyle
4 min read
For the first time in India, a tactile viewing experience has been opened for the visually impaired. (Photo: iStock)

19-year-old Nidhi Gupta (name changed) is ecstatic. She has finally got to experience an artwork by Jamini Roy – an artist whose career trajectory she knows by heart now. “One of my friends is an art student and she talks endlessly about him,” gushes Gupta, a Political Science student. However, before today, Gupta had never got access to his work. The reason?

Her sight is partially impaired.

Lack of tactile aids at museums and galleries in India have denied an entire section of society the pleasure of experiencing fine art. However, change is on the anvil, and it’s all happening at DAG Modern’s two booths at the India Art Fair.

<i>Abhas</i>, created by DAG Modern, for the visually impaired to experience art. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)
Abhas, created by DAG Modern, for the visually impaired to experience art. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)

Here – for the first time in India – a tactile artwork viewing experience has been created for the visually impaired. It means you can actually touch, feel and sense the painting, the material used and the form of lines through palpable reproductions of the artworks.

Of Practical Solutions – Beyond the Romantic

Aptly titled Abhas, this pilot project has been created by Access Logic and Logistics (ALL) for the DAG. The team of Siddhant Shah and Elizabeth Forrestall has been working on creating similar experiences at the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur City Palace.

Sometimes people get romantic about the idea of making spaces accessible for the physically challenged. But we have tried to offer practical solutions,” says Forrestall, who has a masters degree in gallery and museum education from Canada.

Abhas has helped visitors like Gupta experience four selected artworks – two paintings and two sculptures, including the masterpiece Jala Bindu by S H Raza and the 1933-woodcut work by Roy.

One can actually touch, feel and sense the painting, the material used and the form of lines through palpable reproductions of the artworks. (Photo: iStock)
One can actually touch, feel and sense the painting, the material used and the form of lines through palpable reproductions of the artworks. (Photo: iStock)
“I can feel the pronounced eyebrows and the downturned moustache in Roy’s work,” smiles Gupta.

The tactile work for Three drummers, yet another landmark work by Roy, is proving very popular as well. Shah, a heritage architect and access consultant, leads groups from various Delhi-based associations for the blind through the aids.

One – a board tinged with yellow – allows the group to get a sense of earthiness that is synonymous with Roy’s depiction of rural Bengal. Another aid – gouache on cardboard – features the same material used in the original artwork.

SH Raza work specially created by DAG Modern for the visually impaired. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)
SH Raza work specially created by DAG Modern for the visually impaired. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)
“It’s sticky,” laughs one participant, while shooting off several queries about what gouache is.

It’s amazing how these palpable reproductions correspond exactly with the artworks.

“For the works in the printmaking section, we have created the texture in foam to match that of the actual artwork. For the Raza masterpiece, we have tried to get the feel of lines and edges,” says Shah.

I can’t tell a visually impaired person that a work is in blue. But when they pass their hands on a reproduction, they will get a feel of the soft texture of acrylic.
Siddhant Shah, co-creator of Abhas

Art That Transcends Physical Challenges

Armed with a mission to make cult spaces more accessible, the duo have worked with the designers of the DAG booth to make the space wheelchair friendly as well.

The placement of paintings has also been designed to make it wheelchair-friendly. (Photo: iStock)
The placement of paintings has also been designed to make it wheelchair-friendly. (Photo: iStock)

“We have ensured that the artworks are placed in a way that they are at the eye-level of a wheelchair bound person,” says Shah. The placement has been designed in accordance with the ergonomics of Universal Access.

Shah and Forrestall have also printed a special Braille book, explaining the processes and materials used, along with a biography of the artists. This is a landmark in itself – it is for the first time that such a document on visual art has been conceptualised, designed and printed.

We worked on this with the Blind School of Jaipur. When we were discussing ideas, we kept saying, ‘if you see this’, ‘if you view this’. They corrected our vocabulary.
Siddhant Shah, co-creator of Abhas
Shah and Forrestall have also printed a special Braille book, explaining the processes and materials used, along with a biography of the artists. (Photo: iStock)
Shah and Forrestall have also printed a special Braille book, explaining the processes and materials used, along with a biography of the artists. (Photo: iStock)

Their sessions are proving extremely popular with visitors to the DAG booths – be it sighted or visually impaired.

In the ‘Sculpture’ section, a group of five from the National Association of the Deaf are walking around wearing blindfolds. They run their hands over two sculptures – the Village Deity by S Dhanapal and an untitled bronze depiction of a mother and child by Tarak Gorai.

As they open the blindfold, the actual sculptures take them by surprise. Their impressions, communicated to Shah by Asha Singha, their sign language interpreter, are revelatory – some thought that the Village Deity was a body turned upside down!

The ALL team wanted to approach the project in the same way as the material for the sighted.

More institutions need to democratise the art world by offering a wider access to a larger audience. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)
More institutions need to democratise the art world by offering a wider access to a larger audience. (Photo Courtesy: DAG Modern)

“These tactile aids will help everyone – sighted or visually impaired – to understand that the use of different surfaces over time, go hand-in-hand with the development of modernism itself,” says Shah.

They are now hoping that more institutions recognise the need to democratise the art world by offering a wider access to a larger audience.

(Avantika Bhuyan is a freelance journalist who loves to uncover the invisible India hiding in nooks and crannies across the country.)

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