Multisensory art the focus of exhibition at London's Science Museum

A three-day exhibition that shows how people with visual impairments can appreciate a wide range of art forms was unveiled at the Science Museum on 8th August 2017.

A three-day exhibition that showed how people with visual impairments can appreciate a wide range of art forms was unveiled at the Science Museum on 8th August 2017.

The clinician behind the interactive ‘Science of Sight’ experience, Dr Mariya Moosajee, hoped the sensory pieces on display, taken from the Blind Art collection at Moorfields Eye Hospital, would help to “promote tactile art” and artworks based on smell and sound.

Some of the more interesting exhibits I came across on my visit to the exhibition were a giant red blood cell, whose crescent-like shape could be examined by feeling its smooth velvet-like form, and a set of small, light-weight cardboard boxes that, upon opening, emitted soothing scents such as coconut, cinnamon and rose.

Demonstrating the beauty in sound were traditional-style hand crank music boxes, which emitted delicate, harmonic tunes when wound up.

The exhibition also gave Dr Moosajee, a keen advocate of art’s accessibility to everyone, the chance to tell visitors about her research and to help educate the public about conditions relating to sight and the eyes.

For example, a video that was played on the first day, entitled ‘How to grow a retina in four steps’ (see https://vimeo.com/227432768), demonstrated how stem cell technology might be used to increase the understanding of genetic eye diseases, as well as help find new treatments for them.

 

Merging art with science

As well as being an ophthalmologist and scientist with a special interest in genetic eye disease, Dr Moosajee is Chair of Moorfields Art Committee. Explaining her motivation behind the exhibition, she recounted to Ophthalmology Times Europe how her love of art stemmed from childhood.

“Since then, I have always tried to stay involved in art,” she said, before describing that the “clinical, stark white walls” of Moorfields Eye Hospital troubled her when she started working there. She felt that a more creative environment would aid in patients’ mental well being, and thus potentially speed up their recovery whilst in hospital.

“I teamed up with the charity ‘Blind Art’. They donated this collection, the two-dimensional part of which is currently on display in the Outpatients Department of Moorfields, while some of the three-dimensional pieces came here to the Science Museum”.

A key message Dr Moosajee wished to disseminate via the exhibition is that when a person loses his or her sight, the visual cortex continues to be stimulated by the other senses. Even those who are born blind make use of the visual cortex in processing sound and touch, with these senses being heightened compared with non-blind people. 

The exhibition was expected to be visited by thousands of people and Dr Moosajee was joined by scientists, researchers, artists and patients over the three days. The exhibition had the support of The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.