Seeing with their hands — that is what young visually disabled artists did to create works for an ongoing exhibition at Gallery Tom.
Located in the quiet Shoto district of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Gallery Tom is the only art gallery in Japan that caters to the visually impaired by letting visitors touch the displays.
This summer, the exhibit “Boku-tachi no Tsukutta Mono 2005” (“The Things We Made 2005”) features about 60 works made by children at schools for the blind from around Japan, including Tokyo and Hokkaido, Gifu and Fukuoka prefectures.
Most were ceramic sculptures, including a bowl of “udon” noodles with delicately made leeks and shiitake that looked good enough to eat, and a bunch of fresh blue hydrangeas that brightened up the gallery.
A first-year high school student in Fukui Prefecture sculpted a woman walking with a guide dog, stating in her explanation for the work that it portrayed her ideal self at the age of 20 — walking smartly around town.
“It does not matter whether a person can see when creating art,” gallery director Harue Murayama said. “Art is created through sensitivity, not vision. That is how everyone creates art.”
Murayama and her husband, Ado, established the private gallery in 1984 after their visually impaired son, Ren, said that “even blind people have the right to see (Auguste) Rodin.”
Since then, Gallery Tom has held countless exhibitions that let visitors “see” art through their sense of touch.
Her son, however, passed away in 1999.
“At that point, I felt I couldn’t go on,” said Murayama, whose husband died in 2002. “But I realized I had to continue (this work) because I wanted to leave something in this life — just like my son and my husband did.”
With this renewed burst of energy, Murayama continued holding exhibitions, symposiums and lectures by artists to educate visually impaired people in art.
This exhibition, which included artworks by students from elementary school to high school, has been held periodically for a decade, but this year’s is a special treat, Murayama said, because the works are expected to be included among a set of pieces to tour Spain, thanks to the Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Espanoles (ONCE).
This national association for the blind was launched in 1938 to give social and financial aid to blind people. It organizes a lottery — an operation that employs over 23,000 blind or disabled people — and has been actively involved in promoting blind artists and helping young visually impaired people receive education.
Murayama said that, thrilled as she is with the invitation from the highly profitable association, she is utterly disappointed Japan does not have a similar support system.
“In a way, I am acting against all forms of discrimination,” Murayama said. “But if you stop and think for a moment, you will realize that what I am doing is a matter of course. . . . If people realize that (a person with a disability) is just the same as any other person, there would be no need for me to take such action.”
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