‘Please touch’: Making art accessible to the blind – art and culture

Heritage architect Siddhant Shah, 30, gets a lot of complaints that his signs are misspelt. They say ‘Please Touch’ instead of the usual ‘Please don’t touch’, he says with a hearty laugh.

At museums and art galleries across the country, Shah has installed tactile works that allow the visually challenged to touch a replica of the artefact or art work on display, and get a sense of what it looks like.

The idea first came to him when he returned to India after getting a Master’s in heritage management from the University of Kent in Athens, Greece, in 2014. “One of the modules there had been on tactile and inclusive designs to make heritage accessible to all. That interested me a lot because my mother, an art educator, was losing her eyesight,” Shah says.

On a visit to an art gallery during a family vacation, Shah’s mother was told rather brusquely to be seated while the others did the rounds. “That hit me so hard,” he says. “I started thinking about what could be done. I had seen tactile museums in Greece with Braille guides and ‘Please touch’ signs everywhere. I put the two thoughts together and decided this was what I wanted to do.”

On a mission

In 2016, Shah began to work as an access consultant with the City Palace museum in Jaipur, creating Braille guides and reproductions of artefacts so the visually challenged could experience the exhibits.

“Luckily, around the same time, the National Museum in Delhi was trying to add tactile experiences as well,” he says. He collaborated with them and created the Anubhav Gallery inside the National Museum. He’s created a similar gallery for the State Bank Museum in Karachi, Pakistan. In 2015, Shah founded his Access for All enterprise, a consultancy that helps make museums and art hubs inclusive and experiential spaces.

Shah now works closely with the Ministry of Culture as well. So far, Access for All has created Braille guides as well as art replicas, artefact replicas and even replicas of miniature paintings.

Most recently, Shah has worked with the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, India Art Fair in Delhi, Indian School of Design and Innovation, Mumbai, and Kolkata Centre for Creativity.

This year, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, he also launched a Braille book of folk tales, featuring Braille art.

“There are several measures taken within our exhibitions to make art inclusive,” says Vivek Menezes, curator of the Serendipity festival. “In collaboration with Shah, we have art recreated and have audio aids. And the tactile elements are for everyone. The objective is to break all barriers and make art accessible for all.”

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