Please Touch|Cristina Portella|Fa Gallery

the outside. i liked this butterfly and the writing above it in

We grow up being told not to touch. Even as adults we see the unfriendly ‘Do Not Touch’ sign at museums, stores and even novelty boutiques which tantalize us to touch but order us not to. But last night, visitors to Cristina Portella’s exhibition ‘Please Touch’  at the FA Gallery were not only encouraged to feel everything (something I assure you I took full advantage of), but were blind-folded too (really, what better way to cause mischief at a well-attended cultural function than to pretend you can’t see?). I have to say, however, that the show did not live up to the hype I’d built up in my head.

I found the whole thing a little confusing. In the first hall were hanging some framed sequined works covered in glass. The curtains were drawn and had some textured items attached to them every here and there. I was already lost.

this vase, colored in with sequins and other ornaments was begging to be touched, licked and sniffed. i was confused as to whom it was created by and why it was behind glass

The second hall had various macrame pieces and hanging on the wall were some works by a little six-year-old girl called Abrar. Again, this was a little confusing but then it was explained to me that these are works done by blind children and that Abrar herself is partially blind. I discovered that the exhibition is being co-sponsored by the Kuwait Blind Association. I had a short chat with Abrar and she told me that as soon as she went home she was going to draw a picture and that it would be a secret.

Finally, in the last hall (I keep wanting to say main hall but I’m not sure how the gallery is divided in terms of traffic and flow) were the principal works by Brazilian artist Cristina Portella. I immediately ran to a pile of dry leaves on the ground. I should have just stayed there.

my son, yousef and i race all the time to crunch the best sidewalk leaves. he always wins

I have to say that the whole room felt like it was more suited to be an exhibit at the Scientific Center than a proper art exhibition. When i was told about this show (and this is when my over-active imagination ran haywire and led me to last night’s great disappointment), I had this over-ambitious idea of what I would see, or not see: different textures systematically representing different ‘colors’, where colors as we know them are represented by feeling or emotion. Things like that.

When I was blind-folded and started touching the works, I was doing it as someone with a preconception of not only the works but the objects the way I know them as a seeing person. I don’t think that simply contouring an object in high-relief and using various other degrees of it is a thoughtful or even sensitive way to portray how a blind person ‘sees’ art. And it didn’t help me understand how a blind person processes it. If it were as simplistic as outlining an object and filling it in with different textured material, then instead of braille, the blind would read everyday seeing-people text in high relief on paper, rather than a series of strategically-placed dots and spaces. I don’t know, the whole thing felt a little too elementary classroom science for me.

If you think I’m being a little unkind or unfair, I want to share with you what I feel is a more accurate understanding of art for people who are unable to use their eyes to see. My friend Thomas Modeen exhibited these three dimensional ‘snake skin‘ models for the vision-impaired which also serve as both practical and aesthetically tactile additions to the space around us. The problem with Portella’s approach is her well-intentioned attempt to mold works within the context of a seeing man’s world. I think any blind person would see that as purely simplistic and a tad arrogant.

apparently you could smell the pictures as well. i wish id spent more time blind-folded

this was my favorite work there and what i felt was the closest to understanding the visual interpretation of an object to a blind person. i think hamad alsaab thinks theyre little bon bons

i like the glasses over the blindfold. hey, no cheating!

so what does yellow feel like, aziz almudhaf?

18 Comments on “Please Touch|Cristina Portella|Fa Gallery”

  1. hey! that is me with my glasses over the blindfold! I thought that I saw you at the exhibit last night but was not sure… sorry I missed you again!


    • Funny :)! I hope you’re not freaked out that I took that photo. I got pretty up close and personal with some of the blindfolded folk!

  2. It was interesting to get one of my senses taken away but it felt a bit tiring as I went along. I agree about it being kinky by the way.

    • Yes, I did find it a little tedious. I just wasn’t getting the textures and the whole point in general. A few months ago I decided to take a shower with my eyes closed to see how I would handle it (of course the shower isn’t the safest place for such an experiment, but the safety issued factored into it too). I wasn’t allowed to open my eyes for ANYthing. I had to feel the shampoo/conditioner/body bath bottles, their shapes, the textures, the direction of where I was facing. I got more out of that shower than I did two nights ago at the show.

  3. I partially agree with your great disappointment, I had a great expectation too but it really made me appreciate my eyes and other things in life more, specially when I watched the blinds touching /smelling the Art works trying to figure out the shape of it ( I didn’t know that each color had its own smell !!)
    It was different, I liked it 

    • Oh, I enjoyed the night and the experience as a whole. I just think that something like this, being as ambitious of an idea as it was, could have been done in a more compelling manner. And it did nothing for my appreciation of any of my senses. It was just fun; nothing more, nothing less.

  4. i think, we will never be able to really understand.
    this exhibition was done for blind people and only them can really enjoy it and understand it!
    i think we are being selfish because we see and so we have huge expectation but this time, this art wasnt for us, it was for the blind people and maybe because of this exhibition we are feeling what disabel people feel all the time, never being able to undersatnd our world!
    i think the fa did an amazing work, of course, eveything can be better but for a start, it was amazing and most importantly, the blind people were the one seeing it all that night.not us.

    • I certainly agree about the FA Gallery. They took a leap of faith with this exhibition and the people it mattered to possibly enjoyed it the most. But was the show really aiming for the blind? See, this is where I’m confused: is it targetting the seeing so they understand the language of the blind or is it aimed for the blind, where seeing people are merely passers by joining in on the fun?

  5. it was a good opportunity to appreciate our blessings which we don’t always count,
    the art works were beautiful for all senses …
    it was good to be there observing the blind touching the paintings with excitement and happiness

    • I’m a little disappointed in myself for not noticing any blind people there. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blind. Or soul-less.

    • Thank you for holding a show which has sparked such debate! I love the fact that you took this leap, showing unconventional work. One thing this exhibition wasn’t is boring!

  6. i was befare teaching for the blind stoudents in the blind association and i felt vary happy that for once the students were the stars of the shows.i hear from my collegues in the schools, everybady was excited and the kids were so feeling specials.the artist came to make workshop yesterday in the school and it was for them beautiful to hear someone that understand them and coming from brazil, as well the artist dont speak english so everytime it was translated in arabic and the kids felt even more happy that someone from a different country did all this to them and came from so far away especially for them.i think what the fa gallery did was vary good and very different.of course in the opening day most of the peaple were not blind but the real magie happen on the next days where the fa gallery is hosting all the blinds students and adults for a special visit.i hope we will continue to open art and other fields to the blinds people and to always make vents like this. really god bless the kids.

  7. A: I went. B: Did you? A: Ya. I couldn’t quite figure out who it was for. B: What do you mean? A: Well, if it was for the blind I think it missed its target, and if it was for the sighted I think it missed its target. B: How’s that? A: Don’t get me wrong, I think it was put on with the best of intentions, but for a sighted person to wear a blindfold, well, it doesn’t make them think or feel like a blind person. It takes years of practice to be a blind person, I’m not being flippant, it just does. B: Don’t you think a blind person would have enjoyed the show more? A: Possibly, but I didn’t ask any. B: Don’t you think it raised awareness of the world blind people live in and what they have to go through in their daily lives? A: No, not really, I’ve been in a dark room before and I’ve worn a blindfold before, it didn’t make me feel like a blind person any more than flying in an aeroplane makes me feel like a very tall person. B: So, a waste of time? A: Well, no, I prefer to think of it as a missed opportunity. C: Anyone know where the light-switch is?

    • *click*

      You’re right. The thing is, if you read a few comments up, I think it’s great that some blind people DID attend the exhibition in the following days and enjoyed it, and that many sighted people went and enjoyed it. BUT, this wasn’t the challenge I expected it to be. And people who thought it was fine, to each their own. I just have high standards and I feel any public deserves the best.

      One of the things that has me a little bothered when I read the comments is the way people have been a little saccharine about the blind, like they are some untouchable caste which, simply because they haven’t the sense of sight are to be pitied or have their feelings tippy-toed around. If I were blind or deaf or legless or whatever, the last thing I’d want is to be given special attention. So my point is, I think a successful show would have been one that brought both worlds together so that we were all equals, not one enjoying it more or less than the other.

      • I didn’t say there weren’t any blind people there, I said I didn’t ask any whether they enjoyed it or not. And I disagree with you, I don’t think for the show to be successful it needed to bring people together as equals – for this is CLEARLY impossible yet it is PRECISELY what the artist attempted to do. Let’s take blindness as the topical example. I’m not blind, but I’m quite sure that being blind SUCKS. The blind do not enjoy equality with the sighted. They are hugely disadvantaged. Let’s not pretend that the blind are advantaged in other ways to compensate for having no vision, they’re not. It’s shit not being able to see, and I’ve never met a blind person who doesn’t wish everyday for a miracle that would give them sight. For this show, and in an attempt to make the blind and the sighted ‘equal’, the sighted had their vision removed. It is fatuous for anyone to think that this made us all equal. The artist felt she was doing what you have suggested she should, but ended up only making a ‘different’ inequality the focus of the division. The point is, there’s no way a show like this could ever be anything more than mere entertainment. Sighted people putting on blindfolds and squealing “Oh look at me. I’m blind. Isn’t this fun!”

  8. Cooper, if you are born blind, that is the only life you know. Other senses don’t compensate but are utilized the way we utilize sight. If you’re born blind, I don’t think it sucks to be blind, unless people treat you like it sucks. I agree, however, with everything else you said.

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