In Spain, several museums have adapted so that the hands take the place of the eyes for the blind and visually impaired visitors. For these collections of works of art, it is “permission to touch”!
Generally, employees of the Prado, the largest museum of fine arts in Spain, are there to prevent visitors from touching the works. This time Jose Pedro Gonzalez runs his hands over Vulcan’s Forge . It is with their blessing that he discovers this reproduction of one of the most famous canvases of the painter Diego Velazquez. The visitor, aged 56, walks the palm of his hand over the figure of Apollo, wearing a laurel wreath, and follows the outline of the garment of the Greek god. “There are many things to discover,” said Jose Pedro Gonzalez, who lost his sight at the age of 14. This painting is one of six copies of paintings by masters such as Le Greco and Francisco Goya made by the Prado Museum on the occasion of its first exhibition especially for the blind. Thanks to a relief painting, which adds texture and volume to the original, blind and visually impaired can represent the works through the touch. Bowls are made available to guide dogs and an audio guide advises visitors on the best way to explore the works.
Spanish museums increasingly accessible
“This exhibition is great. Until now, the only way for a blind person to access the painting was through the explanations of another person, “said Jose Pedro Gonzalez, who has already visited the exhibition ” Touch the Prado ” since it opened in January. Museums in other countries have already used the same technique to make works accessible to the blind, but their copies were smaller and only in black and white, explains the curator Fernando Perez Suescun. The Prado chose works that were both representative of its vast collection and whose details could easily be highlighted. After the closing of the exhibition in Madrid on October 18, the Prado plans to circulate it in other Spanish cities. This initiative is part of the growing efforts of Spanish museums to make their collections accessible to the blind, with the support of the influential national association for the blind, ONCE.
Replicas of the Taj Mahal
At the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art, which houses Picasso Guernica’s masterpiece, blind visitors are allowed to touch certain sculptures, and the Costume Museum allows them to touch the permanent collection of historical outfits. counting coins dating back to the 16th century. ONCE, which runs the popular national lottery and employs more than 20,000 people with disabilities, advises museums on how to improve the experience of blind visitors. “It not only helps the blind, but also everyone with a disability,” said Angel Luis Gomez Blazquez, director of ONCE’s Sports and Recreation Department. The ONCE Museum in Madrid also features models of 34 famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Kremlin. Here again, the blind are invited to feel them, and a restorer spends once a week to repair any damage to the aftershocks. Blind people sometimes come to touch the models of places they are about to visit or the monuments they saw before becoming blind, says the museum guide, Estrella Cela. “It’s also good for that, remembering things you already know , ” says the museum’s 59-year-old blind employee.
“Hands teach us a lot”
According to Elisabeth Axel, president and founder of Art Beyond Sight, an association based in New York that works for the blind to museums, more and more institutions around the world make their collections accessible to the blind . “Museums really make efforts to invite all audiences to multi-sensory exhibitions , ” she says. The “Met”, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which organizes guided tours, drawing classes and workshops specifically for blind visitors, is at the forefront of this movement, adds Elisabeth Axel. “Touching, feeling, listening is very important,” says Jose Luis Andres, a visitor at the Madrid Costume Museum. “Since I do not have sight, I have to compensate with my other senses, and our hands teach us a lot,” said the 55-year-old man, blind for eight years.