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27|09|12 Touch Art

In tandem with Iberdrola, the Museum launches a pioneering educational initiative for people with visual disabilities


IBERDROLA has been supporting the Museum Education Department since 2008 in its bid to give an increasing number of publics accessibility and to stimulate the development of target groups through activities using art as an educational tool. With Iberdrola’s backing, the Department has run guided tours in galleries and experimental workshops for people with visual and intellectual disabilities and for other collectives with special needs.


Now, thanks to a pioneering technique that enables people with visual disabilities to access knowledge of artworks, five paintings from amongst the masterpieces in the Museum collection have been specially selected for a new educational initiative, specifically designed to let people discover paintings by touch. The paintings chosen are El Greco’s The Annunciation, St. Sebastian Healed by the Holy Women by José de Ribera, Lot and His Daughters by Orazio Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt’s Woman Seated With a Child in Her Arms and Lying Figure in Mirror by Francis Bacon.


Known as Didú, this remarkable new technique, developed by graphic arts organization Estudios Durero in Bilbao, endows flat images with textures and relief contours up to five millimetres thick. A photograph of the image in high resolution is given the most suitable textures and volumes as a guide for a blind person’s hand. Small, apparently insignificant details may suddenly become vitally for an understanding of the composition or theme of a particular painting. It takes about forty hours working on an image to define the right volumes and textures, which are then printed using a special ink. Next, in a process lasting around twelve hours, a chemical procedure is applied to give volume to features that in principle are flat. The real image with the original colours is then printed onto the contour in a “hand-friendly” size of 80 x 120 cm.


In essence, what the process does is to give images a three-dimensional quality. The painting is reproduced in relief so the textures and volume of the reproductions can be explored by touch. At the same time, users listen to an audioguide in Basque, Spanish or English specifically developed to direct their “touch interpretation” of the painting. Finally, to give people with no visual problems an idea of the nature of this activity, masks are provided so anyone interested can experience the potential of touch.