Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

In the mind’s eye

How much of what we see do we first imagine? A new workshop for the visually impaired is trying to find out, writes Abeya El-Bakry

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In two exceptional workshops on painting and photography held in Cairo recently, the visually impaired have been drawing on the world around them and on their own internal sense of colour and perspective to prove that the imagination can help to address the lack of sight that they experience. Works produced during the workshops were exhibited in the Taha Hussein Hall of the Central Library at Cairo University.
“I have lots of things that I would like to do as a hobby and in order to present certain emotions. But being blind prevents me from doing them because they need the visual sense to do so. However, I try my best to overcome my lack of sight by trying to develop alternative tools to do them,” said Tarek Al-Shennawi, one of the participants in the photography workshop.
“Photography depends on description. There are things in nature which are hard to touch, and so apprehending them for the visually impaired must depend on how they are described,” Al-Shennawi added. “For example, if you tell me something is pyramid-shaped and its area is so much, then as a result of the description and the size and distance I can start imagining the scene and use a camera to take a picture.”
Al-Shennawi described Ageeba, one of the most magical shores in Egypt’s Mediterranean region, along with Marsa Matrouh, which is set in the arms of a semi-circular mountain. The actions of the elements have formed what resembles a cave at the base of the mountain, making it seem as if the mountain were overlooking the sea. He even describes the colour gradient, starting with the yellow sand at the base of the mountain and turning blue as it goes into the sea. Starting with a greenish hue, and turning blue as the water gets deeper, the sea takes on ever deeper shades of colour. All this is described by Al-Shennawi as he comments on his photographs. “This was described to me. I am just trying to reproduce it in images. I am trying to bring the mental picture closer through the images,” he said.
“The light in these pictures is remarkable, and it is obvious that he is intuitively directed towards the light,” commented graphic designer Rania Helal on Al-Shennawi’s pictures. “You can see how the light is tangible in these pictures, because the photographer senses where the light is and then takes the picture,” she said.
Participants in the workshops have varying degrees of visual impairment. Al-Shennawi lost his vision at the age of six, but retains the memory of colours and images. Abanoub, drawing a very meticulous picture of a tree, has very slight vision.
“The participants were first given digital cameras, which the instructor explained to them. The instructor showed them the different parts of the cameras in detail, and explained to them how to use them properly. Following this, the participants started to experiment by describing the distances and natures of the objects they were taking pictures of,” explained Nabila Ramzi, supervisor of the Taha Hussein Hall at Cairo University.
The idea of the workshops was designed by Reham Zaki from the university’s Faculty of Specific Education and developed by Adel Badr from the same Faculty. The workshops aim to help visually impaired students at Cairo University develop their visual skills and hence become more integrated into the society in which they live.
Assistants helped them, giving them equipment and guiding them in what they were doing. According to Ramzi, participants in the drawing workshops should learn to draw by themselves, using scents to apprehend the colours they are using. These can then be used as guides, so that the participants are able to sense the colours they want to use. “A strawberry scent was added to the red colour and a mango scent to yellow, for example, as a way of helping the visually impaired participants use the colours effectively.”
Another amusing activity in the drawing workshops was the use of watercolours for finger painting, which needed an additional layer of clothing to cover clothes in case the colours splashed around. The participants were set on course by immersing the sheets of paper they were using into the watercolours and then shaping the coloured areas with their fingers to produce the forms they saw in the mind’s eye. The images, contours, lines and visions they provided helped to raise the artworks to the status of reality, showing how they really did come from the mind’s eye.
Among the most striking images on display in the resulting show are the black-and-white portraits. “When we are first given the sheets of paper on which we are going to draw, we touch the edges of the paper to learn its contours and then we start to move our hands to create the images we see in our mind’s eye,” Al-Shennawi said.

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