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August 10, 2017

HBKU Students Make Art Accessible to the Visually Impaired

When Pablo Picasso was born in 1881, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb had just been unveiled to the world and electricity would not be a common household fixture for another three decades. In the preceding years, as new technologies continued to revolutionize civilization across the globe, artists were interested in technology as source material for their work. They painted landscapes with smokestacks, textile machines and their operators, cranes used in coal mining, or the railroad barreling across open country – in this age, art and technology took parallel lines.
By the time Picasso died in 1973, he was regarded as a grand master of art and credited with creating Cubism. Then, art seemed immune from technology, but the art world Picasso was leaving behind was no longer going to remain insulated or independent from technology. Today, the realms of art and technology have collided and become inextricably intertwined.
In 2017, this marriage between art and technology has led to the digitization of art, virtual galleries, online auctioneering, 3D printed sculptures, and art that is accessible to the visually impaired.

As a research intensive university in the region, Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s (HBKU) College of Humanities and Social Science’s (CHSS) students are pioneers in this ongoing intermeshing of art and technology. Delivered by CHSS’s Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), the Masters of Arts in Audiovisual Translation students train to become specialists in the mediation of audiovisual texts, integrating the fields of technology, culture, and linguistics.
CHSS QM Interns 2.jpg
In May this year, several HBKU students interned at Doha’s iconic Fire Station Artist in Residence facility to work on an exciting new project using audio tactile transcreation. This meant that HBKU students helped to create audio descriptions and touch replicas for Qatar Museums’ “Giacometti and Me” exhibition. The exhibition featured some of Picasso’s famous pieces and sculptures by the renowned Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti – which included works like Self Portrait, Woman Throwing a Stone, The She Goat, Danger, Tall Woman, and Walking Man, amongst others.

Over the course of their internship, HBKU students spent their time analyzing the exhibits that required audio-visual support, scripting the walk-through of the exhibit in the blind-accessible script, Braille, and produced replicas for touch-based exploration. Their work successfully captured the essence of Picasso’s colorful artwork and his rich portrayal of the human condition for the visually impaired.

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