"ABS NEWS & VIEWS " : Winter-Spring 2004-2005
|Filmmaker David Simpson, shown above (right in photo) with his camera and sound men, says, “I want to approach the ‘issues’ through the stories and expressions of real people, as opposed to didactic narration. I want also to de-mystify disability, stripping blindness of its strangeness and stigma, with an eye towards the inclusion of blind people in mainstream society.”|
David Simpson and Kartemquin Educational Films – perhaps best known for “Hoop Dreams,” an Academy Award nominee and winner of numerous awards including the 1994 Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award, Chicago Film Critics Best Picture Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Documentary Award, and the 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award – teamed up with the Art Beyond Sight (ABS) to create the demo for “The Mind’s Eye,” a feature-length documentary David has been crafting award-winning films and television programs for more than two decades. His documentary about disability culture, “When Billy Broke His Head...,” received international praise a jury award at Sundance, a duPont-Columbia Baton for journalistic excellence, and prizes at a dozen other film festivals. “Refrigerator Mothers,” David’s recent film about mothers of autistic children, won top honors at the Florida, Indiana, and Sedona film festivals. (For more on Kartemquin Films, visit www.kartemquin.com.)
|When artist Judith Druck (left in photo) lost her sight, her granddaughter, Elisabeth Axel, seen here with her son, Matis, began looking for ways Mrs. Druck could continue to enjoy art. The outgrowth of her search was Art Beyond Sight (ABS). The women and ABS’s work are featured in Kartemquin’s upcoming film.|
I had seen a NY Times article about ABS’s work bringing blind people into art museums, and I was fascinated by the concept of a person without sight trying to create a mental image of an artwork by bringing in information through other senses.
You’ve described this non-profit as your perfect partner to create this documentary. Why?
As a documentary maker, I like to work closely with organizations and individuals that have intimate knowledge of the world I am depicting. Elisabeth Axel, founder and executive director of ABS, and who holds a PhD degree in art history and serves as ABS’s associate director, have been steeped in the worlds of blindness and education for many years. Their interest in the intersection of disability, art and science aligns closely with my goals for this film. I'm finding their knowledge, perspective and connections to be crucial at every turn.
|Turkish artist Esref Armagan, blind from birth, and Dr. John Kennedy – chair of the Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto, and author of Drawing and the Blind – also appear in the documentary.|
There are so many questions I want to explore in this film, related to the sensory, cognitive and cultural aspects of blindness. For example: Is there such a thing as "blindness culture" (languages, humor and social hierarchies unique to blind communities)? How is the experience of congenital blindness different from losing one's sight later in life? Are blind folks more ‘color blind’ to questions of race, ethnicity and class?
|Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Harvard Medical Center (left in photo), and his team prepare artist Esref Armagan for a functional MRI study.|
Future issues of this newsletter will update you on this film and its release.
|ABS’s Elisabeth Axel is seen here with Jimmy Carter, one of The Blind Boys of Alabama. “The Blind Boy’s music seemed like an old friend, touching something essentially human in all of us,” notes Elisabeth.|
Colonus,” followed by the tour of the theater, chat with the Blind Boys of Alabama and other cast members, and a reception.
David Rodriquez, Executive Director of the Apollo Theater Foundation, notes, “We have hosted many performers who developed their unique talents here despite adversity, discrimination, and disability. Ray Charles and The Blind Boys of Alabama are just a few of them. So, it was a natural match for us to welcome Art Beyond Sight and friends to the theater for a wonderful performance featuring Charles Dutton and the Blind Boys of Alabama.” (For the Apollo’s schedule, visit www.Apolloshowtime.com.)
|Turkish Artist Esref Armagan (right in photo) demonstrated his draftsmanship to the people who attended the opening of his exhibit, among them Ahmet Ertegun (left), who noted: "In the realm of music, I have witnessed many talented artists who became victorious in the face of adversities, prejudices, and skepticism. I was very anxious to see for myself how this amazing congenitally blind artists creates pictures on paper and canvas. I was very impressed with the accuracy of Esref's drawings, and touched by his oil paintings of landscapes and scenes that are so representative of Turkish folk art."|
Born to a family of little means in one of Istanbul’s poor neighborhoods, Esref made his first pictures with a nail on the cardboard boxes his father brought home from work. He received no support or understanding from his environment. Like many blind children in Turkey, he had no formal schooling, as people did not think him capable of learning. Later he taught himself how to write.
|“Oil on canvas”, Esref Armagan|
|The Honorable Frederic K. Schroeder, PhD, former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, with ABS’s associate director, Dr. .|
The exhibition coincided with a convention of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Committee on Disability, and many of its delegates attended Esref’s one-man show. Among them was Kicki Nordstrom, Secretary General of the World Blind Union, who spoke briefly at the exhibition’s opening reception about the importance of art and culture in the lives of all people.
Thanks to the Moon and Stars Project for making this event possible.
|Italy’s Museo Omero, Ancona, is unique in that its entire collection can be handled by visitors.|
|Elisabeth Axel opened a press conference on the steps of the City Hall on October 11, 2004. In attendance were representatives of the NYC museum and arts community and the National Federation of the Blind.|
|Awareness Week’s poster, right, and brochure were conceived and designed by Avalanche Creative Services, Inc., of New York City.|
|On ABS’s telephone conference course, Barry Kleider spoke about a photography course he created for the Minnesota State Acacemy for the Blind. Here, he is seen with one of the school’s instructors and several students; Barry is teaching them about solarplates and how to read the tactual images they create.|
|The Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind’s Awareness Week celebration included a special program and sculpting workshop led by Pittsburgh artist Robert Qualters (left in photo).|
Blind created Braille nametags for visitors at the Denver Art Museum. Alabama’s Birmingham Museum of Art had a free concert of 18th-century music by the Alabama School of Fine Arts’ orchestra, after which students who were blind or visually impaired were invited to handle the musical instruments. The museum also hosted a studio art session for the students; it included a holiday card-making contest.
|Helsinki’s Finish National Gallery was among the European museums to celebrate Awareness Week. Here, museum educator Leena Hannula prepares to give a “hand-doll guiding” to children who are blind and visually impaired. During the tour, children were allowed to handle the dolls in the museum’s collection.|
“Projects like this shake up everyone’s understanding of
blindness and visual impairment,” notes ABS’s associate
director, Dr. . “Some people still consider
blindness and the visual arts an unlikely match, but it
isn’t. Art has tremendous value for creators and beholders, regardless of their abilities. It also has immediate tangible educational and health benefits.”
The health benefits of art for people who are blind and visually impaired were discussed on CBS TV’s Channel 2 news program on October 20. As the program’s medical editor, Dr. Sapna Parikh, noted, the opportunity to create art is crucial for a child’s psychological development and personal growth. Making art and design choices, finding a reflection of self in one’s art, helps to develop self-esteem and a secure sense of self. For blind and visually impaired children, museum visits mean better social and communication skills, and community integration. For seniors with vision loss, being part of a museum community means coming out of the isolation of their homes, making new friends, and overcoming the psychological challenges of living with vision impairment.
|Dr. was one of the featured speakers at the international Art Within Reach conference.|
|Poster for the international conference in Italy, held during Awareness Week.|
|Art Beyond Sight Resource Guide (AFB Press, 2003) and a companion video co-produced by ABS and the Museum of Modern Art were used in many Awareness Week events. Shown here is Meredith Viera who narrated the video introducing ABS's Resource Guide at the beginning of the video.|
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