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Delhi gets ready for art spaces where the visually impaired feel welcome

Museums and galleries in the Capital are embracing inclusivity, and opening their doors to the blind by installing tactile reproductions of art pieces and Braille descriptions.

art and culture Updated: May 30, 2018 19:30 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
National Museum,Braille,Visually impaired
A group of visually impaired youngsters feel a tactile representation of an artwork, on display at the National Museum.

How does one gain their first access into the world of art, and what is the sense that helps them in the appreciation of it? Through the eye, is the prompt response one gets on asking around. But does the beauty of art not lie in it being able to be perceived and soaked in through other senses, too? Then why is it that those who can’t see only seldom get a chance to appreciate art?

But that is changing now. The National Museum’s ongoing exhibition, titled India and the World: A History in Nine Stories, is a first-of-its-kind attempt to lend inclusivity to the world of art appreciation.

The detailed exhibition has over 200 objects on display — some of the most foremost works of art from around 20 museums and private collections across the world, including the British Museum, London. And 18 highlights from these are tactile recreations. Alongside there are text descriptions in Braille and even a special audio guide, not to mention a tactile path laid down to make it easy for the visually-impaired to manoeuvre independently.

READ| The spectacular exhibition India and the World reaches Delhi

“When I had started working to make museums more accessible to the disabled, and approached people, they often commented ‘Jo dekh nahin sakte wo museum aake kya karenge’ (One who can’t see has nothing to do in a museum),” recalls Siddhanth Shah, who has worked to make the ongoing exhibition at National Museum inclusive for the blind. Shah has also worked as a design consultant with UNESCO to make World Heritags Sites in India, disabled-friendly. “Just think if tomorrow you wake up and are told that you can’t visit a museum because you are fat or short. If discrimination at that level isn’t acceptable, then why discriminate against the disabled?” he asks.

One of the tactile representations of an exhibit at the ongoing exhibition, India and the World.

BR Mani, director-general, National Museum, says the idea to make art accessible to the disabled was conceived when they set up Anubhav — A Tactile Gallery, inside the museum. “We wanted the visually-impaired to not just hear the descriptions of the artworks on display, but also feel them. The museum has more than two lakh pieces, and making all of them digitally tactile was difficult, so we brought different masterpieces from different collections to be experienced at one place in this gallery,” he says.

Young girls feel and read the descriptions of artworks that are put up in Braille.

Despite their strong desire to experience and be able to appreciate art, enthusiasts like Vasundhara Raturi, a student of Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University, feel museums in the Capital are not disabled-friendly. “If I can’t touch the exhibit or there’s no one to explain, it remains an unfulfilled experience. There are so many museums in my city that I would love to visit, but I know that they don’t have the required facilities for people like me — who are visually impaired — so I don’t go,” Raturi says.

Gallerists agree that art needs to be more inclusive, but add that putting it into practice is a tough task. “It’s a huge challenge to get more people to experience art. The disabled are particularly peripheral to the world of art. Our inventory is massive, but to be able to make at least some parts of it accessible to the visually impaired, we have created some artworks in digitally tactile format,” says Kishore Singh, head, exhibitions and publications, DAG. The gallery’s ground floor also provides easy access for the wheelchair bound. “We don’t take into consideration those who are less fortunate than us,” says Singh, hoping more art spaces are made disabled-friendly.

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First Published: May 30, 2018 19:29 IST