Be it paintings or photographs, this architect uses Braille to make art accessible to everyone
Today's story in our series The Power of Braille, we profile an initiative that is changing the way we look at art and heritage, an approach that makes art both accessible and inclusive to all.
Walk into most art exhibitions and one is surrounded by signs that say - "Please do not touch" or "Keep Distance". Siddhant Shah is challenging that approach and enabling the blind to enjoy and immerse themselves in art through the sense of touch.
This young Mumbai-based heritage architect and disability access consultant was on a study trip to Greece, when he was exposed to the idea of disabled-friendly museums. That, coupled with his mother's partial vision loss, motivated Shah to look at ways to transform art into a tactile experience back in India.
It was an ambitious thought and translating it into reality was a much bigger challenge than Shah had anticipated. "One of the main challenges that we faced was the lack of awareness about Braille even amongst the blind as many don't have access to education in Braille", says Shah. "Also with audio support coming, Braille literacy is low as many people, especially the youth, just want to listen to recordings and get on with it. "
Shah was determined not to go the audio way in the art experience.
"The reason we want to make it in Braille is because a book endures, it will stay with them. Besides we wanted to expose them to a new kind of reading. Most of the books the blind read are education-related. By offering art in Braille, we make the language a richer experience" - Siddhant Shah
The result has been an explosion of ideas that are spreading far and wide. Most recently Shah gave tactile form to photographs at the Serendipity Art Fair in Goa, something never attempted in India before. From fishing nets to boats, the exhibits brought the blind closer to their own world.
For Samara, a student at the National School of the Blind based in Goa, a fishing net was just a word until the fair. "I had heard of fishing nets before and now I actually got to feel it", she said, the wonder evident on her face and words.
Be it the DAG Modern Gallery, the Anubhav Tactile Gallery in Delhi, or the City Palace of Jaipur, Shah is determined to make this approach to art one that is integral. He has taken this outside India as well, like the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur and the Braille coins at the Karachi Museum.
"I think one of the best things is that when the blind touch these paintings or objects, they don't need any one's help. They can enjoy it like everyone else independently, without needing someone to explain to them and say its a clown, or a jaali window, etc" - Siddhant Shah
Today, getting the Braille expertise has become a little easier for Shah, who also hopes it will open up further avenues of employment for the blind.
"People who know Braille don't know what to do with that knowledge. I have been able to employ two people, and now there is growing awareness of this as a source of employment", says Shah.
Click below to read the other stories in The Power of Braille series: