Mini Sculptures in Front of Monuments Help Visually Impaired People Explore Architecture

Egbert Broerken is creating miniature models of famous buildings that blind people can touch, feel, and enjoy. (Image: Frans Berkelaar via wikimedia  CC BY-SA 2.0)
Egbert Broerken is creating miniature models of famous buildings that blind people can touch, feel, and enjoy. (Image: Frans Berkelaar via wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0)

Works of art are one thing that a blind person usually cannot enjoy. After all, what would one see without his eyes? People without eyesight are thus robbed of the chance to experience some of the finest art pieces of human history. A German sculptor, Egbert Broerken, troubled by the realization that blind people are unable to appreciate architecture, is creating miniature models of famous buildings that they can touch, feel, and enjoy.

Helping the blind ‘see’ art

Broerken has been making scale models of monuments for the past 20 years. His models have been installed at over 120 sites across Europe. To create a model, Broerken first takes numerous photographs of a monument. He then moves to the casting process where the monument is replicated to perfectly resemble the original one. These miniature models are often made in bronze and installed close to the original structures.

For a blind person who explores these models through touch, it would be the first time they could get an idea of what a structure they may have passed by thousands of times actually looks like. “When blind people finger their town for the first time it is a completely new experience for them… Before they could feel the walls of the town but only the model gives them a chance to understand the dimension of the town they live in,” he said in a statement (My Modern Art).

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The models give blind people a chance to explore and understand the dimensions of the town in which they live. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Blind-friendly museums

Over the past decade, museums have implemented several measures to ensure that blind people are able to enjoy the artifacts on display. The Prado museum of Madrid decided that just offering braille guides or audio descriptions of an art piece was not enough to convey its beauty to the blind. As such, they created complex 3D replicas of important works at the museum. To do this, a technique called “Didu” was utilized, which allows an artwork to be reproduced not only in full color, but also with rich texture.

“Each painting is reproduced with volume to give them a 3-dimensional quality. You can feel the texture of hair on a Goya painting, the smoothness of skin on an El Greco classic, and even trace an expression of dark pensiveness in a Da Vinci masterpiece. At the same time, visitors use an audio guide to direct their “touch interpretation” of the painting so they can feel with their hands what they see in their minds’ eye,” according to Plaid Zebra. Even the minutest details like fingernails can be felt by a blind person.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Paintings are reproduced using a technique called ‘Didu,’ which gives them a 3-dimensional quality. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The Mary Rose museum in England also makes use of replicas to make its works accessible to the visually impaired. However, what is unique about the museum is the use of lighting. Most museums present their paintings in low light conditions in order to better preserve the collection. However, this adds an extra layer of difficulty for a visually impaired person. To cater to these people, the Mary Rose museum holds a 2-hour session once every month.

“During these two-hour sessions, the light levels are higher than usual. This makes the museum more accessible to visually impaired visitors. The sessions can be useful for people with autism or dementia too. The sound effects are low, and trained staff and volunteers are on hand to guide people,” according to Museum Next.

Almost 1.3 billion people across the world are believed to have some kind of blindness or visual impairment. Making art available to them is definitely our responsibility as fellow human beings.

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