A gentle, unobtrusive advisory at the entrance to the India Art Fair asks visitors not to touch the art works. Understandably so. But at the other end of the venue, at the awe-inspiring DAG Modern booth of Delhi Art Gallery, there are four works of art that a certain young gentleman called Siddhant Shah will request you to touch. Of course, he will ask you to close your eyes first before touching. Because, those works of art are tactile representations of four important works by renowned masters, that have been reproduced for the visually impaired, who so far have remained out of the ambit of the world of visual art for obvious reasons.
“I studied architecture in Greece, at Athens, and was exposed to amazing museums, including private ones, which are sensitive towards the visually impaired. When I returned to India, I wanted to do something similar but was met with rejection by all those who could help in Mumbai. After meeting up with many people who weren’t interested, I finally found eager patrons in Delhi Art Gallery and they encouraged me to do this,” shares Siddhant Shah, a Mumbai-based heritage architect and access consultant. When he is complimented for the brilliant addition to the India Art Fair, he says that he isn’t doing anything extraordinary, and it should have been done earlier because he says, “culture is meant to be inclusive. How can a section of the population, that is impaired, be kept out this very important aspect of life.” S.H. Raza’s “Jala Bindu,” 1998 and Shanti Dave’s “Untitled,” 1974 are two of the art works with tactile reproductions.
This pilot project, called Abhas, has been created by Access Logic and Logistics (ALL), not only creates a platform for the inclusion of the visually impaired in the field of experiencing art, but also subtly sensitises the audience on the issues of disability. The tactile representations are accompanied by braille text explaining the work. A Braille book, explaining the various processes and materials used along with the biographies of the featured artists, has also been published. Ashish Anand, Delhi Art Gallery, says, “This is the first time that such an attempt has been made and we hope to make our booth as friendly for all sections of the society as possible.” The various niches in both the booth of DAG Modern — booths G1 and H1 — come with gentle ramps leading to the art works for the aid of the differently abled.
Adds Shah, “When I started working with the gallery on this project, their work for the India Art Fair was already underway. But they were so cooperative that despite some work already been done, they agreed to make certain changes to help the display become disabled-friendly. For instance, we have ensured the right height of the captions and descriptions of art works so that anybody coming on a wheel chair has no problem reading it.” The heights and placement of the art works along with the tactile aids and reproductions are designed as per the ergonomics of Universal Access. The DAG Modern booths, by any standard the best designed at the India Art Fair 2016, have been created by Rafiq Kidwai.
The Abhas pilot project will culminate in a presentation on the concluding day of the fair, January 31, where its results will be analysed and discussed.