Blindness and ‘The object of art-in-between’. Towards cosmopolitical encounters in museological settings

By Joyce Leysen


 “What I thought was funny … they didn’t see those little faces …”

“No, they didn’t see them, they didn’t know. They weren’t quite sure what they were for, and you felt, oh this is a little face.”

“And when she said that, I thought ‘Oh yes, look here, a little nose and …!’ and all of a sudden, the picture is more clear.”

“Those are such interesting things I think, you can’t see it, yet, you can feel it.”

(excerpt from conversation: three persons (with and without visual impairments) talking about their art experience in a Brussels museum, 2014, my translation)

The above quote comes from a conversation during a tour for people with visual impairments in a museum in Brussels (Belgium). Our group was, at that specific time, sitting in a seperate room where the persons with visual impaiments were allowed to haptically experience an ancient vase. Very much appreciated by the group.

A dip in the museum's history shows that for thirty years already the museum staff provides for activities that specifically target the group of people with visual impairments. Today the policy of this so called Museum for Blind People (my own translation) is changed from organizing activities in seperate rooms to the organization of customized tours for people with visual impairments within the regular museum circuit (see http://www.kmkg-mrah.be/nl/blinden-en-slechtzienden-0, consulted October 8, 2017).

Great, you might think, especially if you consider the following quote of a woman with a severe visual impairment who often went to the Museum for blind people: "In itself, I don't like the idea: 'We are going to that room alone.' You could sit there, and touch things. But you didn't have the feeling of going to an exhibition."
(excerpt from group conversation, Leuven, 2014, my translation).

For this person, being able to touch an object of art in a seperate museum room did not evoke the feeling of experiencing art in a museum sphere. Though she regognized some advantages of fully separate art activity, she did express a domain and relating to the museum's public exhibitions. In other words, she wanted to have the feeling of being a museum visitor, as all other (seeing) people coming to the museum for an exhibition.