Rachel Gadsden: A vision beyond sight
Despite her visual impairment, British artist Rachel Gadsden doesn’t stop seeing the brighter side to things. JustHere talks to the dynamic visual artist who was in Doha for the Katara Arts and Disability Festival, organised by the British Council.
Artist Rachel Gadsden rushes in and out of the art studio at the Katara Art Centre, her clothes stained with paint. Three batches of students with disabilities have arrived and she gets busy guiding them patiently through the body mapping workshop that she is conducting as part of the Katara Arts and Disability festival.
It’s hard to believe that the artist is visually impaired. She was diagnosed with retinoschisis six years ago; an eye disease that blinded her left eye while leaving her with fragmented vision in the right eye. I pick up on her reduced vision, only when she asks me to read what’s written on my business card.
Rachel’s challenges don’t end there. She also suffers from brittle asthma which makes breathing difficult for her. She is kept alive by a syringe driver that she hides under her shirt. The device helps dilate her airways to increase the intake of oxygen.
“Sometimes I feel exhausted by the challenges that I take on board. Losing my sight was enormous because I relied on them as a visual artist. I can’t see people’s faces, their expressions, anymore.” But, at the same time, the artist is humbled by her reality. “It’s because of this experience that I have begun to produce work like this.
“My eye vision is diminishing, but my inner vision is getting bigger and bigger. I think as humans we have lost some of our corporeal sensibilities. My work comes from a totally different impetus now.”
Inspiring young minds
“I just want every young person with disabilities to know that they have the right to have their voice heard.”
The body mapping workshop is a process where participants lie on the floor, and have their outline drawn on the canvas. They then fill in their body map with details that form the story of their lives.
“With young kids it’s about patterns, shapes and forms. For adults it can become a more serious representation of who they are.”
She invited young students to this workshop in particular because she feels young people rarely get a chance to express themselves. “Body mapping forces us to talk about issues and express what we want to express. I just want every young person with disabilities to know that they have the right to have their voice heard.”
A few days ago, a group of students from Al Noor Institute for the Blind had come to meet the artist. “Though they couldn’t participate in the body mapping workshop, they were excited to meet an artist who was visually impaired. They told me it gave them hope.”
“The Qatari government is investing huge amounts of money to make sure that young disabled people have opportunities. But there’s still a huge step to be taken to integrate mainstream society with the disabled society.”
(…contd on 2)