One of Bengal’s greatest modernists, Benode Behari Mukherjee, could never take his vision for granted. An illness in his childhood left him blind in one eye and myopic in the other. Then, at the age of 53, in 1957, he completely lost his sight after a failed cataract operation. Undeterred, he got back to work fairly early on, this time reinventing himself by relying on touch and memory to produce paper cut-outs, sculptures and drawings when painting became impossible.
Picasso once said that “painting is a craft for the blind”, perhaps implying that colors and the spectrum of visible light are subjective things. So when the Kolkata Center for Creativity (KCC) released The Art of Benode Behari Mukherjee – the first in a series of braille books on art – at the recent India Art Fair, it seemed like a long overdue effort. long time.
Published in collaboration with Access For All, the book offers an introduction to Mukherjee’s art and life, brought to life through five paintings that have been converted into tactile artworks (courtesy Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation) and an accompanying essay in braille by his student, friend and modernist colleague, K. G. Subramanyan.
“Art books, most of which are exhibition catalogs, are most often written and consumed by English speakers. As a result, we don’t even have art books in regional languages to bridge the gap between privileged English speakers and others, say enough braille books on art and culture,” says Richa Agarwal, KCC President. “Realizing this need, we are committed to creating at least one braille book each year on an artist who can inspire someone to engage in the arts if not convince them to pursue it,” says Agarwal, who plans to honor another master from Bengal in the next braille book to come out of KCC. The book contains also non-Braille English text, printed in a larger font with partially blind people in mind.
It is indeed difficult to produce a braille art book that truly appeals to and benefits the visually impaired adult. Verbo-visual prompts never fully convey the transformative power of an artwork. Arctic Circle: A Tactile Graphic Novel For Blind Readers (2016), made possible by a grant from the Finnish Kone Institute, allowed artist Ilan Manouach to construct an entirely new language within his “conceptual” comic ” on a pair of climatologists in the North Pole. “To make comics accessible to the blind, Manouach imagined a whole new language made up of symbols and sculptural and palpable motifs, which come together to tell a story…”, writes a critic in the art magazine in line Hyperallergic. “The result is Shapereader, a system of tactile ideograms, or “tactigrams:” haptic equivalents for objects, actions, feelings, characters, and other features of any story. They are raised shapes on a wooden board, and have more in common with Chinese pictographs than with Braille letters or the Roman alphabet, in that they are textual representations of what they represent.”
In India, we have yet to see innovative art books that are so wisely produced for the blind or partially disabled. “While a number of schools for the blind and braille presses are active, making visual arts and artists accessible to the visually impaired has remained a low priority. KCC’s Braille Books on Art series attempts to bridge this gap by converting two-dimensional works of art into tactile works of art that could be physically felt and experienced,” says Agarwal.