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ALL THE LIGHT WE CAN SEE

November 6, 2017

”All the light we can see ” in an artists’ perspective

Enjoy an essay by Banga Simon.

This is Braille-and-Art: Illustration as a platform for the Blind to access public monuments in Kampala.

In September 2008, Uganda ratified the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability. Consistent with this document, the government of Uganda has taken significant strides towards adopting laws and policies that guarantee the rights of the visually challenged to access public spaces.

However, this access has not been realized with respect to public culture and art. For example, all the monuments located in Kampala’s central business district are not accessible for the blind. It is for this reason that I produced the artworks I have put in this exhibition. I have raised a question as to whether Kampala’s monuments, that are visual in nature and thus inaccessible for the visually challenged, can be rendered accessible using illustration as a tool.

To address this question, I explored five monuments located within Kampala’s central business district. I purposively selected these monuments because they are important in the history of Uganda; they represent the trajectory of the country’s history. They include: the Independence Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Stride, the Centenary Park Monument and the Journey.

 

I have deployed my experience as a professional illustrator. I usually create illustrations focusing on images that communicate messages. I have observed that to achieve this objective, I have had to produce illustrations in two ways: (i) illustrations that done using simple line work with flat color imaging; and (ii) illustrations that done using well developed forms enhanced with attributes of traditional drawing.

I have used these two modes of illustration to inquire into the nature of the meanings attributed to reality especially with respect images made accessible to the visually challenged. I have learnt certain new things in the process:

First, Gábor Üveges (2007) is convinced that mastering traditional drawing techniques allows one to depict ideas about forms in a visual language and, in so doing, one avoids the problems of being ambiguous and long-winded that comes with verbal communication. In this exhibition I integrated traditional drawing techniques through illustration and transformed sculptures into forms that are not ambiguous and winded. This directness of message was important to render public monuments in Kampala’s central business district accessible for the visually challenged.

Second, Durand (2001) observed that expressiveness, precision, and simplicity underscore the broad appeal in drawing while the versatile role of strokes conveys form, tone, shape, texture and style that derive from both the richness and the difficulty of the medium. In this exhibition I have explored these attributes to produce my artworks.

It is against this background that I transcribed Kampala’s public monuments into forms that can be accessed by the visually challenged. My project was part of a bigger project titled Kampala’s Public Monuments/Allegories of Exclusion: Perspectives of Governance, Human Rights and Development. I started the process by looking at selected monuments as aesthetic objects: the fine arts. To achieve this, I experimented with different materials, surfaces, and tools ranging from the camera, pencils, pen and ink, charcoal pencils, colored pencils, crayons, water color, bond paper and scrambled paper to produce fine art.

Later, I re-directed my energy to experiment with textures targeting the aesthetic tastes of a visually challenged audience. I interrogated illustration as a way of transcribing selected monuments into tactile representations. I produced a kind of ‘brailled art’.

 

The artworks in this exhibition cover this whole process. Some of the works were done using traditional art media. Others were developed using the stylus, Perkins Braille machine, thermoform machine and computer software as tools to create Kampala’s public monuments in braille. I also used different materials including threads, bond paper, banana fibers, paper mash, bee/ paraffin wax, paper mash, style form and egg shells to achieve different textures and tactile effects. In the process, I expanded the scope of my illustration beyond traditional methods and techniques. I produced monuments that I discussed with a purposively selected visually impaired audience at Humura Hotel on 21-22 May 2017. I used examined the information I obtained from this discussion to produce more work which I presented for examination before I graduated with an MA(Fine Art) in January 2017. This exhibition thus also serves to celebrate my career and personal development.

 

Let me now say this in conclusion: as artists we can produce images that allow us to step outside our own reality and experience another time, place or people. By using illustration as a tool to render Kampala’s public monuments accessible for the visually challenged we can widen the possibilities of this experience. We can move from our comfort zone and experience the challenges faced by Persons with Disability as they struggle to access the art we make and place in public spaces. That way we can find ways of resolving such challenges of access as we widen the scope of Uganda’s contemporary art to include audiences whose aesthetic tastes do not primarily depend on the visuality of art.

 

REFERENCES

Ayoubi, Lida. 2011. “Human Rights Perspectives on Access of the Blind, Visually Impaired and Other Reading Disabled Persons to Copyrighted Materials.” Master´s Programme in International Human Rights Law and Intellectual Property Law, Faculty of Law, Lund University.

Cutsforth, Thomas Darl. 1951. The blind in school and society: A psychological study: American Foundation for the Blind.

Department of International Development. 2013. Disability in Uganda.

Farahani, Mukisa. 2015. “Museveni gives away Nakivubo.” Daily Monitor, 30 March. http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Museveni-gives-away-Nakivubo/688334-2669914-vebm4e/index.html.

Groce, Nora, and JF Trani. 2011. “Disability and the Millennium Development Goals.”  United Nations Publication.

Nyombi, Chrispas, and Moses Wasswa Mulimira. 2012. “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A Review of Employment Laws in Uganda.”

Tamale, Sylvia. 2004. “Introducing Quotas: Discourse and Legal Reform in Uganda.”  The Implementation of Quotas: African Experiences, Johannesburg: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance:38-45.

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