Blind People ‘See’ Art

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK If you thought a visually impaired person would never be able to see an artwork, then you should think again. What has become known popularly overseas has now been introduced to Namibia where even the ‘blind can see’. You might be guessing what this interesting concept is and how it can work for the visually impaired to enable them to see in the first place. Well, it’s called ‘Braille art’ – something initially introduced to Namibians at the ongoing National Disability Conference under way in the capital this week. Currently, there are six Braille artworks being displayed at the conference, amazingly drawn by persons with visual impairments from different countries around the world. Normally, when you step into an art gallery, you are asked to look and not touch. But with Braille art if you are visually impaired, you are allowed to touch and ‘see’ the artwork. How it works for someone visually impaired is that the elevated relief paperwork outlines, for example, a baby’s face or that of a cat and dog. By touching these strips of elevated paper, one can tell what kind of an artwork it is. Braille art in essence allows art access to the blind, while strengthening their sense of touch. “You can actually see the artwork through the sense of touch,” said VSO’s Senorita /Gases while showing pieces of art in the conference room. She said this is an innovative way through which Namibians can learn how to do Braille art in order to make life a little bit brighter for those that cannot see at all. “The artworks came three weeks ago from Kenya and this is the first time it is being displayed in Namibia through the VSO,” said /Gases, adding that all the six pieces were framed free of charge by the National Art Gallery as its contribution to the conference. Quite intrigued by the artwork, the Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Richard Kamwi said he was amazed. “It’s simply amazing,” he said as he touched an artwork by Canadian artist Lisa Milroy entitled, “Short-sighted Cat Knitting a Sweater.” For visually impaired Namibians at the conference, such initiatives were keenly welcomed as they expose them to the world of art, while at the same time giving them a ‘picture’ to ‘see’ art through everybody’s eyes. Silvanus Haufiku of the National Federation of the Visually Impaired said more such creative and innovative ways of assisting Namibians like him are needed, in order to create an all-inclusive society. Although the disability conference is new to him, Haufiku saw the importance of pushing the fight for having important information to be printed in Braille. “We only hear about HIV/Aids on the radio and television, but there is nothing written in Braille like in newspapers or pamphlets,” he noted. Although efforts have been made to have the Namibian Constitution and Vision 2030 in Braille, there is a call for HIV/Aids information to be made accessible to visually impaired Namibians. Others at the conference suggested that condom packets be printed in Braille as well, as there is a fear that they could be at risk of using expired condoms. “If I get the virus who’s fault will it be,” asked one participant. However, these are but just a few of the many challenges facing visually impaired Namibians. To tackle such issues head on, it is hoped that the ongoing National Consultative Disability Conference will make such voices to be heard and acted upon in future.