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The blind experience the magic of photographs for the first time

It was a first of its kind experience for the children and teachers from the National Association of the Blind when they visited the second edition of the Serendipity Art Festival Goa 2017 being held in Panjim from 15 to 22 December.

India's finest artists display their work at the Serendipity Arts Festival 2017

Of particular interest here are the exhibitions by accessibility consultant Siddhant Shah, who has curated the 'Senses' part of the festival. Shah, whose aim is to make art and heritage accessible to people with various disabilities, has picked some of the works on display and made them as accessible as possible to the blind.

The impact of the magic was clear from the reactions of the children, for whom an educational trip turned out to be an explosion of ideas and possibilities.

Blind children got to experience fishing nets & boats

Sumara is from Goa but had never understood what a fishing net was or looked like and the wonder and delight was evident on her face.

"I had heard of it but never understood what it was like. After touching it, I now know what its like"

Shah took the works on display and made tactile reproductions of flowing waters and the boats. "You can feel the texture of the water, the floating buoys, the net that goes inside, etc."

"This is the first time we are doing this with photographs and it began when I was sitting with a group of blind kids at a school and they were trying to figure out what the glossy picture on their identity cards was - Siddhant Shah"

That was Siddhant serendipity or happy accident moment, when he realised that he had not looked at how to make photographs accessible to the blind. It led him to convert three photo exhibitions at the festival into tactile format. "Interestingly they all relate to water, boat and trees and these are things that are very inherent to Goa so we decided to specifically capture these images".

This is the first time a public art festival in India has been made accessible to the blind on such a large scale. And for both the audiences and artists, this unique effort has pushed them to look at their art in new ways

"The children were touching the weights and a few other solids and it struck me that there is so little in my art that is non-visible", said artist Orijit Sen, who has a graphical installation of the Mapusa Market with audio effects. "What my art can offer as non- visual stimulations is very little. It was nice that they were attracted to the soundscapes."

"I always wanted to capture the visual imagery with the soundscape and perhaps thats the way I will go forward to make it accessible to the blind - Orijit Sen"

Photographs made accessible to the blind for the first time

For the children the experience was a feast for the senses. "I loved touching the blocks and the jaalis and other artefacts that showed the temples and other parts of India", said Nympha, a student. "I also want to learn jaali work now", added Sumara. Clearly, it opened up new avenues to explore their creativity.

The festival has taken art to a totally new level, making to an accessible and participative experience for the vision impaired, and opening artists up to the idea of looking and expressing their creativity in new ways.

Monika Kshatriya has filed this report for NewzHook from Panjim,Goa.

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