Seeing in the Dark: challenging how we use our senses to perceive art

It has always been my desire for Akka Project to present a multi-sensory experience, and not simply limited to using one of our senses, namely sight, to stare at pictures on a wall. Our current art exhibition ‘Seeing in Dark’ has been a truly wonderful realization of this desire.

As Picasso said; “Painting is a blind man’s profession. He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.”. Even those of us that are not artists can easily appreciate how artists channel a multitude of sensations they have experienced through their work, not simply what they have seen. But what of those of us that are the audience, how much is our enjoyment is curtailed by limiting our appreciation of art to just one of our senses? What would happen if we couldn’t see the art? What other senses can we invoke to vary our sensual pleasure of art?

It was these mystifying questions that led me to Workneh Bezu, and to commission him for the ‘Seeing in the Dark’ exhibition. The multi-talented Workneh Bezu was the perfect choice to rise to the challenge of producing work for our adventurous desire to host an exhibition in the dark. To start with, in line with the Gallery’s mission to work with emerging African talents, Workneh is a leading Ethiopian contemporary artist, and a founding member of one of Ethiopia’s highly popular artist collectives, the Habesha Art Studio. What made Workneh even more appealing is his approach to art; practicing in many different media including rug puppets, paintings in oil and watercolors, sculpture, video works and graphic art. Workneh is already recognized for his varying talent and is best known as the pioneer of puppet and short animation film in Ethiopia – widely known as a writer a director and a producer of the first children film in puppet film in Ethiopia, entitled Sasase fable ye sasase teret.

To fulfill our extraordinary concept, Workneh produced work that can be appreciated by the sense of touch – whilst still being visually alluring, this is tactile art with canvasses that are layered and embossed with various interesting textures that one cannot even begin to perceive when you simply look at them. When touching them in absolute darkness, an assortment of consistencies is revealed; varying from smooth to rough to downright mysterious – and turn this produces unexpected shifts in perception, suddenly revealing a new and surprising depth that is a huge diversion from how we usually appreciate art, leading us to suddenly understanding how lack of sight means having a different conception of shape, mass and size.

Our goal was to create a one-of-a-kind experience that enables people to rethink the way they perceive art. As humans when one of our senses is compromised, we adapt and sharpen the other senses. By asking audiences to touch the art, when this is usually forbidden in galleries, we created a rule-breaking art concept, never attempted before in the Middle East region. Here at Akka Project, we are extremely proud of what we have achieved – an audacious exhibition that challenges you to reactivate your forgotten senses and to experience art in a more intimate way.