Thursday, October 21, 2010

Braille art? ...Braille as art?

Envision: Braille As Art is an installation art exhibition in collaboration between Singaporean Artist Susanna Goho-Quek, Kenneth Quek and Malaysian Artist Phillip Wong, with the objective of encouraging the visually impaired to enter an art gallery and to appreciate the artwork through touch, listening and imagination. It is also to encourage the sighted to experience art through sight, sound and touch.

Braille art?.. Braille as art?.. I still could not figure it out in my mind what it's all about. Having accepted the invitation to visit the first of its kind exhibition here in Malaysia, I was really looking forward to solve this mind boggling mystery.

I have forgotten the massive traffic jams in KL city centre during the peak hours on a hot Saturday afternoon, Hong behind the wheels, patiently inching towards the destination, Star Hill Plaza, right in the smack of the city. Hong was grumbling at the traffic snarl and I was deep in thought challenging my mind trying to imagine what Braille art is or Braille as art.

"Hello! Welcome to our gallery." The hosts and us had a brief exchange of pleasantries as I was led to sit in a comfortable Chinese antique royal chair. A picture frame was handed to me and asked if I could figure it out from my touch and feel. My first impressions.... no idea at all. All I could feel was some soft fabric, gel like substances, cut, arranged and glued in places. The only thing I was certain and sure was the picture frame but not the contents within, despite the tactile arrangements. "I give up," I said, my face blushed with embarrasment. Hong, took my hand, helped to glide my finger over the tactile pieces again and giving me hints and clues. "Wow! it's a flower with large petals" I said confidently. Yes, it was a sunflower and smaller ones on the canvass. Following that 'humiliating' and humbling experience, I was handed a thick book to review next. The artist explained that she spent 3 days, practically no sleep nor rest over the period in creating this Braille art form. Again, on each page, tactile pictures were carefully set out and as I ran my fingers over the picture, it somewhat got easier and I could figure out quite correctly some of the pieces. Another important guide was the braille text descriptions to the picture which helps the blind to visualize the composition of the picture. Alas! my Braille skills are still at a preliminary stage and therefore, I was again handicapped but not for the blind who are braille literate. So, with Hong's `audio' assistance, I could interpret the pictures as the words were read out to me.

Next, I was led to the gallery proper, through black curtains as it was supposed to be pitched dark inside. This was for the sighted visitors to experience what the blind visitors experience. The art frames were hung on the walls, like the conventional art galleries and I had to touch and feel the Braille art, all in Braille dots. Again, my limited Braille did not help much and I was struggling to read the words of the poems. Unfortunately, no tactile pictures to help out. As I struggled through the touch and feel experience of the Braille art, my mind transported me back to the art galleries which I had the opportunity to visit when I was in Paris, a few years ago. The difference between now and then, no touching of paintings then, but now I could touch the `artworks' as I walked along in the art gallery. I could feel my brains sweating as I was put to this mammoth challenge.

"What made you do this, Braille art" I asked Susanna, the artist. She added that she had also written several poems and had books published. It was by chance that she got this creative idea. She was walking past a blind person along the city one day and it hit her that her book was not accessible to the blind and this got her to ponder. She got her poems to be transcribed into Braille for a start and the rest just followed.

That was my first visit (hopefully not the last) to an art exhibition after I have lost my sight. Did not envisage going to an art gallery but thanks to Susanna she has opened another door of experience which I thought was closed to me since becoming blind.

More challenging times ahead!

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