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Beyond the Visual: Exploring what blindness brings to the experience of art

Gabriela presenting at the event with Ameerah
  • Written byLubna Hussain
  • Published date 17 January 2023
Gabriela presenting at the event with Ameerah
Gabriela presenting at the event with Ameerah | Lubna Hussain

Lecturer in Psychology, Ameerah Khadaroo and Gabriela Daniels, Programme Director for Science at LCF give us insight into the role blindness can play within cultural organisations and beyond. The two presented their research and participated in a panel discussion exploring blind and low-vision people’s makeup practices, challenges, and motivations.

We submerge into non-sighted modes of engaging art through the discussions that were addressed at the Beyond the Visual event late last year. The event brought together artists, scientists, and people, involved in cultural organisations to share work related to how blind people experience, access, and appreciate better visual arts.

Headshot of Programme Director Gabriela Daniels
Headshot of Gabriela Daniels | Lubna Hussain

Can you please tell us more about the event that took place?

Our contribution was to draw attention to how a blind person can channel their artistic appreciation via using makeup as a form of self-expression and self-care.

I learnt from them that there are many ways to convey an artistic idea. Some sighted presenters like ourselves shared their research which also span other modalities of communication such as sound.

How can the world become more aware of blind people’s engagement with makeup as a form of visual art and self-care?

Involving blind people in the process of organising an event or making an object which is to be used by them is essential for good accessibility. The same applies to bind people’s engagement with cosmetics and makeup. If blind people were commonly present amongst people wearing and enjoying their makeup, the public awareness will grow. Industry and media will respond too, all leading to offering blind, or people with impaired vision, more equitable access to cosmetics.

What is blind aesthetics? How do blind people perceive beauty?

From what I have read so far, blind people’s aesthetics is just like everyone else’s, it is learnt from experience. They rely on sighted people to provide some additional cues – it could be an audio description or feedback as well as sound and touch. In relation to beauty, I have read about a study with blind people which explored specifically the meaning of beautiful. For the people in the study beauty was a quality going beyond having attractive features and into possessing values that added depth to the person’s character.

On the other hand, our research suggests that 'feeling beautiful' comes within and the experience of using makeup can enable some blind people to feel more confident in themselves. So, the concept of blind people’s needs for and enjoyment of makeup and strive for beauty are like everyone else’s and it is important for everyone to understand and appreciate that. I am very glad that the Welcome Trust have now invited us to feature this work in an upcoming exhibition on the perceptions of beauty.

Headshot of LCF's Psychology Lecturer Ameerah Khadaroo
Headshot of Psychology Lecturer Ameerah Khadaroo | Lubna Hussain

Can you please give us a deeper dive on the type of interests and habits that brings to the experience of art?

The experience of art in its varied form is of interest to everyone including myself, and regardless of our differences. That said, I think cultural organisations and beyond should be better equipped to understand the needs of different social groups and work towards promoting and facilitating engagement with art and aesthetics as a multi-sensory experience. In my view this can really help create habits and interests around the experience of art that are inclusive and accessible to everybody.

What was LCF’s involvement, how are we trying to break out and reach more people?

Our involvement was mainly about the dissemination of research findings from a study we conducted on blind and low vision people’s makeup practices, challenges, and motivation. Given the lack of research on the role played by cosmetics in enhancing the wellbeing of the visually impaired in their everyday life, we believe that this research helped to gain a better insight into how makeup is experienced as an art and enjoyed by them. We specifically aimed to draw more attention to this group of people by motivating other blind and low-vision people, and to also change the public’s perceptions of disability.

What discussions would you like to highlight that resonated with you and the work you do?

In parallel with our own research which focused on the perspective and voices of visually impaired people themselves, we all agreed and appreciated that engagement with art and aesthetics is best understood through the lived experiences of individuals; especially those with low-vision. This helps to better capture how their experiences could be improved to bridge the gap between sighted and non-sighted experiences of art. This, in my view, was a key discussion point in the symposium.

In addition, what really resonated with me was the recognition and increasing awareness of the fact that impairment is not a disability. Rather, societal barriers impeding one’s experiences of what is commonly known as the ‘visual’ art are what need to be addressed. This, I think can pave the way for more accessibility and inclusion in the context of art including the use of cosmetics as a form of art.

Were there any particular themes that kept coming up? 

Presenting our research and participating in the panel discussion made us realise that the association between any form of engagement with art and the wellbeing of people is yet to be thoroughly explored and celebrated including through the lens of diversity. I believe it would be great if this gap in knowledge is addressed considering that art is a multi-sensory experience. In the same vein and which I also strongly support, the concept of the ‘visual’ art was rightly challenged to broaden people’s perspective on the meaning of art.

What is art?

Let’s pause for a few seconds to think about this.

Art is much more than the visual and quite a powerful mode of self-expression with a positive impact on wellbeing. This theme echoed in our study on blind and low-vision people’s makeup practices, challenges, and motivations. Participating in this symposium made me more conscious of the fact that there is so much more to be done for a holistic understanding of the topic and this platform opened avenues for more research and discussion.

Woman using sign language during the event
Woman using BSL sign language during the event | Lubna Hussain