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This Brilliant Initiative Helps Blind Children Appreciate Art & Heritage

Sparsh, an initiative by Asian Paints and St+art Foundation, is transforming Jaipur’s Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh Institute into a place where visually impaired children can appreciate art.

This Brilliant Initiative Helps Blind Children Appreciate Art & Heritage

This article has been sponsored by Asian Paints

A group of students stand in front of a seven-foot wall inside the prayer hall at the Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh School in Jaipur. There is an undeniable enthusiasm among them as they discuss the artwork sprawled out on it. The room, which was once only a place for assemblies, has now taken on a new avatar.

At first glance, the students appear to be marvelling at what they see. But a closer look will reveal they are blind. The art in front of them must thus assume a ‘tactile’ form.

It suffices to say that the art is novel in its creation. For one, it beckons the students to touch it to understand it, thus disrupting the traditional notion that art needs to be appreciated from a distance. For another, it acts as a medium for the children to delve deeper into the culture of their state.

Bringing this to fruition is a project ‘Sparsh’, an initiative launched by Asian Paints and the St+art India Foundation — a platform that contributes to urban regeneration and community living through contemporary urban art projects. The project is rooted in the fact that art connects people through thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed.

Art enables people to express emotions that they cannot otherwise
Art enables people to express emotions that they cannot otherwise, Picture source: St+art
The students are encouraged to draw and paint designs that reflect the Rajasthani culture
The students are encouraged to draw and paint designs that reflect the Rajasthani culture, Picture source: St+art

Strokes of inclusivity

Why should a disability come in the way of enjoying art to the fullest?

It is this thought that provoked Asian Paints and St+art to begin thinking along the lines of bringing inclusivity into art.

Together, they have brought this idea of ‘tangible art’ to life to enable blind children to experience their culture from a whole new perspective. Through Sparsh, the goal is to broaden their young minds to new ways of experiencing art while sharing their pride in the vibrant and cultural heritage of Rajasthan, on which the designs of the murals are based.

Giulia Ambrogi, a contemporary art curator and co-founder of St+art India Foundation, traces the conceptualisation of this unique initiative to the pandemic. “We began introducing art into settings where it could bring hope. For instance, one of our projects was at a paediatric hospital in Noida. We realised art’s potential to go beyond the language barrier to unite people.”

The idea of Project Sparsh by Asian Paints and St+art was to bring inclusivity into art
The idea of Project Sparsh by Asian Paints and St+art was to bring inclusivity into art, Picture source: St+art
The murals are a combination of braille and bandhej in order to let visually impaired students immerse themselves in their culture
The murals are a combination of braille and bandhej in order to let visually impaired students immerse themselves in their culture, Picture source: St+art
Blue pottery, carpet making and bandhej are a few of the crafts of Rajasthan that feature in the murals
Blue pottery, carpet making and bandhej are a few of the crafts of Rajasthan that feature in the murals, Picture source: St+art

This was what prodded the team to begin thinking of introducing art into a more inclusive space. And they say the Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh was ideal to champion this cause. Since 1968, the organisation has been working with blind persons to create an environment for students to excel at education along with gaining essential life skills.

It is this quest for holistic development that drew the St+art India Foundation to it, and Project Sparsh was ready to take off.

Feel to believe

The goal of the initiative was to enable the children to “interact” with the art. Here’s where the beautiful range of colours and textures by Asian Paints stepped in.

Through glorious strokes of paint and texture that are equally rich, a compelling story has been put together in the prayer hall of the school — one that conveys the legacy of Rajasthani culture. The sensation of tactility is achieved through the Royale Play range of textured paints from Asian Paints, which turns simple surfaces into tactile language that the students can touch and feel.

These textured paints add a new dimension and redefine the art, says Amit Syngle, MD & CEO, Asian Paints Ltd. “At Asian Paints, we leverage art and creativity to foster inclusivity among people. Sparsh is a representation of our values of empathy and the spirit of creativity. This initiative aims to bring joy and inspiration to visually impaired students through touch and feel. The murals narrate captivating stories, from the rich heritage of Rajasthan to the indomitable spirit of Helen Keller and are accessible to all, especially people who perceive the world differently from us. Together with St+art India Foundation, the Sparsh initiative stands as a testament to our commitment to #ArtForAll.”

The space is divided into an outdoor art mural, an indoor art museum and an art workshop
The space is divided into an outdoor art mural, an indoor art museum and an art workshop, Picture source: St+art
The murals are a deep dive into the history of India and are intricately designed using braille
The murals are a deep dive into the history of India and are intricately designed using braille, Picture source: St+art
The Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh School in Jaipur has been empowering blind persons since 1968
The Rajasthan Netraheen Kalyan Sangh School in Jaipur has been empowering blind persons since 1968, Picture source: St+art

But what captivated every individual on the team was the children’s response to the tactile art. Their excitement at learning and experiencing more about their culture was evident.

But the wall is only one part of the canvas.

If you head outside, you’ll see giant art murals where bandhej (a dye-textile form centric to Rajasthan) is combined with braille. The duo is an attempt at making a tangible and powerful statement of ‘inclusivity’. In addition to this, the mural being crafted in the style of Rajasthani artisans allows the students to experience a sense of joy and belonging.

Meanwhile, the indoor art museum lets Rajasthan’s marvellous artisanal works — kathputli, blue pottery and carpet making — have their moment. 

An art workshop in close quarters features the artworks created by the students during the Sparsh initiative. This is accompanied by the braille text so that the kids can feel the visuals and simultaneously read about it.

Foraying into this new territory of bringing inclusivity into art was not easy. There were many new roads to navigate.

“This is because there is a whole spectrum of things which we perceive as normal, but are inaccessible to blind persons. But, that’s where the textures played a role,” says Giulia, who shares what an “educative experience” it has been for all the individuals involved in the project. “The project required us to ask a lot of questions and really break through what we knew,” she adds.

Each person who was a part of Project Sparsh testifies that it reaffirmed the belief that art is a universal language, speaking to each individual’s senses and experiences.

Edited by Pranita Bhat.

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