Deafblind charity gets support from trendy Shoreditch, UK art collective


Charity Deafblind UK has worked with artists and The Stage to develop a multisensory mural that appeals to the deafblind community through playing with all the senses.

What would you miss if you lost your sight and hearing? Waves gently caressing a beach? The golden glow of a sunrise? Or the sound of leaves carunching underfoot as you walk through a forest on a dry autumn’s morning?

A mural entitled "What would you miss?" explores all these and has, very powerfully, been informed by people who are deafblind, by what they’ve have said they miss the most since developing their disability.

This is the first tactile mural that Global Street Art, an organisation specialising in their namesake, has created.

Each scene has been expertly represented using tactile materials to ensure it is accessible to a deafblind audience. The graphically enhanced street art depicts waves of string across the panel in a specific pattern that’s punctuated with starfish shells. The sunrise uses strings to showcase how lights go in every direction and the eerily-empty woodland walk includes strings to simulate trees and branches of a forest.

Of the startlingly colourful mural, Lee Bofkin, Co-founder of Global Street Art tells Ophthalmology Times Europe: “The whole mural was mocked up digitally first and we went through different options with Deafblind UK to make sure we were reflecting the things that had the most meaning to people with deafblindness. We made the images simple for those with visual impairments and the colours bold where possible (i.e., for the sunrise). We used spray paint and emulsion and we even mixed sand in some of the paint to increase its texture. There were a number of large wooden pieces also fixed to the wall at the same time. This was to give the mural more depth and allowed us to stick on even more textures to those boards. We experimented a lot with things like textured wallpaper for the tree bark, and then we added on fake ivy. There were even starfish on the beach! The artist, Perspicere, added all of the yarn elements - he’s incredible and added a completely different textural dimension to the wall too. The text on the mural was also printed in braille.”

The artist says Shoreditch was the desired location because as artists Global Street Art have such a great relationship with the landlords of the wall, and The Stage, whereby occasional commercial murals fully fund murals for charities.

“It happens to be an amazing site too seen by 30,000 cars per day. Essentially this wall is special and allows us to do something unique on it!”, said Lee, adding: “We’ve had great feedback-Deafblind UK’s Chairman, Bob Nolan, visited the mural last week. He is deafblind and seeing how he interacted with the wall meant a lot to us. Working with Deafblind UK has been a highlight of the project with staff and volunteers being hugely supportive and great to work with.”

Steve Conway is the CEO of Deafblind and says the spectrum of deafblindness is really wide and so it affects everyone differently: “Some people might just need to change the way they do things or make small adjustments, but for others it can make life very very difficult. The most basic of things, like going to the shops, catching up with friends or watching TV can be hard and a lot of the people we support tell us they often feel lonely and isolated. The world just isn’t made for people with sight and hearing loss, but we’re trying to change that.”

Deafblindness affects so many people but is often overlooked or under recognised, said the CEO, adding that this mural is rare in that those with sensory impairments can enjoy it as much as those with sight and hearing-something there is not enough of in today’s world.

Conway told Ophthalmology Times Europe that all too often, people with deafblindness rely on their mind’s own interpretations of the world around them, based on their memories or what people tell them. "Our mural gives everyone the chance to experience art for themselves whether this is through sight or through touch."

It also gives a powerful message to those who don’t know about or haven’t considered the effects of sight and hearing loss.

Deafblind UK supports people with combined sight and hearing loss, enabling them to have the life they want. It is estimated that nearly 400,000 people in the UK are deafblind, and that figure is increasing as our population ages.

Global Street Art CEO and Co-founder Lee Bofkin says: “Working with Deafblind UK has been a brilliant experience for us and has really pushed our concept of what a mural is and who it is for. We’re really happy to have been able to include a much broader audience in who can appreciate this mural. We’re proud to support the great work Deafblind does.”

The mural was live for four weeks this summer at Great Eastern Street. Curated byinnovative Shoreditch-based organisation
Global Street Art Agency in partnership with the developers The Stage, a mixed-use development on the site of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre, the mural is part of a programme on the Great Eastern Art Wall retained by The Stage as a space for local and international artists to collaborate with worthwhile charities.

The mural marks the start of Deafblind UK’s campaign ‘What would you miss?’ where they will be encouraging others to think about the implications of sight and hearing loss and how it would affect them. Post what you would miss on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #WhatWouldYouMiss and encourage others to do the same.

With the help of our friends at Global Street Art, we have brought this to life with a mural in London’s street art capital, Shoreditch. This mural is rare in that those with sensory impairments can enjoy it as much as those with sight and hearing–something there is not enough of in today’s world. It also gives a powerful message to those who don’t know about or haven’t considered the effects of sight and hearing loss. There was a lot of innovation in this mural - some things worked well and other things not so well. We tried a lot of techniques for texture before we felt we had the right toolkit!

Lee Bofkin concludes: “Working with Deafblind UK was our main route to involve the deafblind community. We’re hoping they can help get the message to people who are deafblind so people can come and visit the mural. The whole project was an inspiration and it made us think about who murals are for, and how they should be made, in a completely different way.”

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