There are many attempts at bringing visual art closer to people with visual impairments – models, tactile surfaces and experiences that engage other senses. But what if the very design of art was equally accessible to people who can and cannot see from get-go? Tactile: 12 Concealed Sculptures is an art exhibition with this aim in mind.

Part of the Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture Programme, the exhibition takes place at the University of Malta Valletta Campus. It brings together 12 sculptures by Maltese, French, Italian and Japanese artists within a space devoid of light. Each sculpture is concealed from the naked eye, leaving visitors no other option than to interact with it using their sense of touch, thus questioning preconceived notions of the ‘normal’ process of perceiving visual art. Visually impaired and sighted persons will equally interact with art through a common sensory experience.

Tactile sets out to reveal to those deprived of sight a world that, by its very visual nature, typically excludes them from engaging with it. It also hopes to act as an ‘eye-opener’ for the general public who is being involved in the same act of perceiving and interacting with sculpture through touch as those who are visually impaired.

Detail of Samidare by Kunie Fujiyoshi

Tactile is created and curated by Jesmond Vassallo, with the participation of artists Omura Shunji, Kunie Fujiyoshi, Takashi Yukawa (Japan), Claire Fontana (France), Adriano Ciarla (Italy), Raymond Azzopardi, Joseph Chetcuti, Jonathan Galea, Noel Galea Bason, Paul Scerri, John Vassallo and Jesmond Vassallo himself (Malta).

As they move from one sculpture to the next, visitors, who will be asked to wear an eye mask, will be able to use their fingers to feel descriptions of each artwork in Braille. This action will in turn trigger an audio recording which corresponds to the Braille reading. The artworks can only be viewed in photographic form in an exhibition catalogue, which will become available after the closing of the exhibition.

Tactile: 12 Concealed Sculptures is at the University of Malta Valletta Campus between the 5th October and 4th November 2018. It is open to visitors from Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm; Saturdays from 10am till 2pm; and Sunday 4th November (last day of exhibition) from 10am till 2pm. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time. More information is at tactileproject.com.