Rockland Center for the Arts increases accessibility of the arts for the blind and low-vision art enthusiasts in a new exhibition sponsored by Crystal Run Healthcare

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Visions of Awareness, is an exhibit exploring VISION and seeing creatively.  Vision does not solely rely on the function of our eyes: sight starts in the brain as an idea or thought. The exhibit is on view October 13 through November 24, 2019. An artists reception will be held on Sunday, October 20 from 2-5 p.m.  Please see the attached for additional related programming.

This October is Vision Awareness Month.  This exhibit explores the human need for imagery through art by legally blind and low vision artists as well as tactile sighted artists.  The human brain is wired for optical input, for visualization.  Even when the optic nerve is not getting input, the brain would continue creating images. Why does a blind person take photographs?  Further why would he want images?  According to Evgen Bavcar of The Seeing with Photography Collective, “ One can’t belong to this world if one cannot imagine it in his own way. When a blind person says ‘I imagine,’ it means he too has an inner representation of external realities.” Vision, even in the absence of sight, is a need, above all, to visualize.

What role can art play in bringing awareness of those with physical limitations, how they interact with the world, and the insights they can bring from their perspectives? The unsighted are unbound by assumptions of sight. According to Mina Levent, the Director of Art Education for the Blind and the Art Beyond Sight Institute in New York, “People are starting to accept the fact that art and imagery are mental and not visual. The heart of the creative work has nothing to do with sight. Artists’ choices are internal.”

For a blind person, making a photograph is a choice, a radical choice, a political move. Doing so lays claim to the visual world and forces a reevaluation of ideas about blindness. People will ask how can they do this if they can’t see anything?  Most believe it is unthinkable. The image starts in the brain through mental imagery deep in the mind.  The unsighted artist is not bound by sighted assumptions. These acts of creative image-making additionally render the blind artists from The Seeing with Photography Collective more “visible” to the sighted, an important matter for such a small and marginalized minority.

Sidewalk Sagas, wire sculptures composed of mild steel wire by painter and sculptor Busser Howell. The Sidewalk Sagas series are three-dimensional narratives revealing the influence of modern technology on metropolitan life, the anxieties of today’s city dweller, and the mania associated with cellphones which leads to a dangerous “cyber-oblivion.” Howell claims the result is a potent mixture of aggression, sidewalk rage, amnesia, and a sense of entitlement that too many pedestrians seem to embrace.

In 35th Street and Lexington Avenue,  the sculpture reveals panoramic dramas occurring on the north side of the narrow sidewalk of 35th Street: with houses and their stoops on one side and trees and tree guards on the curb, the blind man and his guide dog try to move through all the dog walkers who make no effort to contain their pets, their leashes fully extended; a couple drinking coffee and sharing gossip are oblivious to their three little barking dogs that will jump between the feet of the blind man causing him to trip on the leash while the dogs distract his service animal; a person is texting while his poodle poops against the tree; and at the end of the block, a woman is deeply involved on her phone while her dog at the end of its leash joins in the mayhem. Each sculpture depicts a moment in time just prior to the collisions and run-ins that are so common to part of the daily fabric of walking the sidewalks of New York City using a guide dog. They depict the sense of entitlement of so many pedestrians either on their phones or simply feeling they have the right of way is something emblematic of this cyber age.  People too frequently act as if cyberspace is real and what is happening around them is the fantasy.

Kenn Kotara uses Braille in his paintings. Through these works, he explores the anthropologic quality of Braille. Delving into the essence of the system, where everything is pared down to subtle dots, he thinks of what it is like to possess perfect vision, yet the junction of one’s philosophies and ideologies creates impairment. According to Mr Kotara “When we can’t see beyond our own ideas, we accept them as sufficient. What If  we were to shift, even slightly?  Might a glimmer recalibrate our optics, our perceptions?” When light catches that little lip of the Braille surface, it creates a shadow effect. It can remind one of basic hieroglyphics, language as image.  Poems or thoughts are included in bas-relief Braille over his abstract paintings which are reminiscent of his native Louisiana rivers, marshlands and lush vegetation.

Other artwork in the exhibit will include three-dimensional pieces to touch:  Simone Kestelman’s textural landmark buildings created as glass sculptures; Alice Mizrachi’s rendering of one of the exhibit photographs from The Seeing with Photography Collective.

RoCA’s encourages visitors to think of art as a form of healing for the mind, body and spirit in this fast-paced, technology-driven world we live in. Through exhibitions that feature artists who have overcome challenges in their own lives, we hope to provide inspiration for others.  Visions of Awareness is more than an art exhibition, it is considered a service to the community. RoCA strives to create inclusiveness in the arts, a place where patrons who are blind can just be patrons. Sleep shades will be available for sighted patrons so they have a chance to experience art through their other senses. RoCA hopes to increase the accessibility for those of low-vision and legally blind through audio recordings about the artwork, with equipment powered by Quiet Events .

RoCA’s other two exhibits opening at the same time include: Endless Journey, an exhibit of one man’s journey to inform the world of Cambodia’s experiences through art and heal wounds. Chanthou Oeur, also known as Chakra Oeur, has spanned the globe utilizing his extraordinary multi talents. As a refugee encamped by the Khmer Rouge, he shares his experiences and enduring spirit with those who are willing to see and hear. The Body Reconfigured, an exhibit of one Vietnam Veteran’s journey creating art to navigate through PTSD. Howard Miller’s beautiful compositions resemble parts of the body in layered abstract compositions.  Miller’s situation is representative of many veterans of war. Sometimes soldiers cannot verbally say what the trauma is but they can express it through art where they are removed in a way where they are shielded, safe and protected to express it.  This reintegrates the brain and the healing process begins.

RoCA invites the public to attend the artist’s Opening Reception on Sunday, October 20, 2-5 p.m. Visions of Awareness  is on view Oct. 13 – Nov. 24, free to the general public. For more information contact: Rockland Center for the Arts, 845-358-0877, or visit Rockland Center for the Arts is located at 27 S Greenbush Rd., West Nyack. Regular hours are:  Mon-Fri 10-4; Sat and Sun 1-4pm.

Exhibition Related Programming:

Oct. 16 – White Cane Day

RoCA is partnering with The Association for the Visually Impaired (AVI), which will hold it’s White Cane Day to celebrate the independence the visually impaired can derive from using a White Cane.  The event will be held Oct. 16 at Dominican College in the Hennessey Center from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  Artist Busser Howell, from RoCA’s Visions of Awareness Exhibit, will be the inspirational speaker at AVI’s White Cane Day on learning to deal with blindness and continuing on with life. AVI provides Functional Vision Services to all ages as well as providing comprehensive vision rehabilitation services and programs for workforce development and placement at no costs.  AVI provides training to ensure independence and the ability to live a healthy and meaningful lifestyle within the community and within the home.  For more information call 845-574-4950.

Oct. 21 & Nov. 4 – Free Eye Exams

Visions of Awareness and related programs are generously funded by Crystal Run Healthcare. Crystal Run will be holding a free Vision Lab @ RoCA to test your eyes as a preservation for your vision on Monday, Oct. 21 and Monday, Nov. 4 from 12  – 4 p.m.  To schedule a 15 minute appointment call 845-358-0877. Drop-ins are welcome.

Nov. 14  Artists Talk

RoCA will present an Artists Talk with Mark Andres of The Seeing with Photography Collective and Busser Howell at 7 p.m.  The artists will talk about how their vision impairment has brought a deeper mental imagery of their work, their inspiration and their pieces in the exhibit.  Free to the public.

Nov. 16 – Music Sessions @ RoCA

A.J. Croce will perform on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.  A.J., son of Jim Croce, went blind at age four, due to horrific physical abuse from his mother’s boyfriend, after his father died.  A.J. was hospitalized for half a year and was totally blind in both eyes for six years.  It was during this time he started playing piano, inspired by blind pianists Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.  Croce, regained some sight in his left eye when he ten.  As a virtuoso piano player, Croce toured with B.B. King and Ray Charles before reaching the age of 21.

A.J. will perform Croce Plays Croce, it’s a special night of music featuring a complete set of classics from his late father, Jim Croce, some of A.J.’s own tunes, and songs that influenced both him and his father.  A.J.’s 25 year career as a pianist, songwriter and singer has produced nine albums, 17 Top 20 singles and he has performed on The Late Show, The Tonight Show, The Today Show, CNN, MTV & VH1.

About the Exhibiting Artists: 

The Seeing with Photography Collective

The Seeing with Photography Collective is a group of photographers based in New York City who are visually impaired, low-vision sighted and totally blind. Coming from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, they share an awareness of sight loss, along with the determination to dialogue and integrate imagery into a more universal context.  Sighted assistants focus and compose the camera’s frame directed by the blind artist.  Then, in a darkened room, they leave the camera’s shutter open as they slowly “paint” the subject with a small flashlight creating human-scale exposures, lasting many minutes, rather than the instant shutter click typically heard.  Luminous distortions, blurred or glowing forms result from the technique.

The Collective uses two other essential tools for the creation of the photographs.  The first is the light switch, and the second is a flashlight.  What would make more intuitive sense for a visually impaired photographer than taking pictures in the dark?  Their photographs are made by the movement of the subjects’ bodies as they paint the subjects with hand-held lights.

Busser Howell

At the age of fifteen, Busser Howell lost 98 percent of his vision.  At the age of 40 he lost the remaining 2 percent.  Prior to being a professional artist, in NYC, he was a partner for twenty-four years in an interior design and restoration business.

Howell is also a painter, who works in richly textured, large-scale, monochromatic surfaces.  His objective is to reduce his work to its minimal form while still maintaining a strength of design, color, and form.  These large geometric pieces are worked in heavy impastos of acrylic paint.  Paints in his studio are arranged by color on a set of shelves.  Howell starts a painting by walking into his studio, and meditating.  He sees his art in his mind and uses his mind the way a sighted artist might use a sketch pad, working on various ideas and editing ideas to see how it will change the idea.  With brushes and canvas at hand, he allows the piece to evolve.  Color appears in his mind and he moves intuitively on the canvas, almost like a channel.  Often the paint is applied by hand, and the irregular lines are made with his fingers, making the works tactile and the most physically involved works he produces.

Howell has exhibited at Hunt Morgan Museum, Kentucky; the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; the Museum of the Permian Basin, Texas; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; and the collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut.  He has given discussions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is the author of the book 20/20 Blindsight.  Blindsight is an interview with other blind artists unfolding individual point of view by examining the concepts of creativity, perception, touch and accessibility.  Howell engages the vibrant, boundless minds of fifteen visually impaired artists.  It is the artists telling their story, and an extraordinary look into a world never before fully understood.

Kenn Kotara

Kenn Kotara was is a Louisiana native living and working in North Carolina.  As a painter and educator he uses Braille as an anthropologic quality in his work.  Kotara’s work has been exhibited at such venues of the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, Univ. of LA, Lafayette, LA; Flander Gallery, Raleigh, NC; and Sandler Hudson Gallery, Atlanta, GA.

Kotara’s work is in the public collections of Asheville Art Museum, NC, Elon University, Elon, NC, Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge, LA, Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, NC, U.S. Embassy, Kingston, Jamaica.  Corporate collections with his work include:  Amber Bay Resort, Dalian China, Bellagio, Las Vegas, ClearChoice Management Services, LLC, Tampa, FL, GE Power Systems, Atlanta, Gold Strike Casino, MS, Park Hyatt Hotel, Washington, DC Sumisho, Tokyo, Japan and Star City Casino, Penthouse Suites, Sydney, Australia.

Simone Kestelman

Simone Kestelman is a Brazilian born sculptor and multi-media artist living in New York.  Kestelman wants to find other ways of bridging verbal and nonverbal means of communication, and of integrating different media to produce work that addresses the disabled and plight of females.  She often uses text to help integrate image and concept, and interactive elements to motivate viewers, especially children and the sense-impaired, to respond and express themselves.

Kestelman has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece, the United Nations, MOCA, Calgary, Canada, A Hebraica Gallery, San Paulo, Brazil and SCOPE Arts NY,

Alice Mizrachi

Alice Mizrachi is a NY based interdisciplinary artist and educator working in the mediums of painting, murals and installation.  As an arts educator for twenty years, she has worked for organizations including BRIC Arts, The Laundromat Project and The Studio Museum in Harlem.  She has an extensive body of work as a muralist.  Mizrachi’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, the United Nations and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington, DC.  She has been commissioned as a mural artist for projects in Amsterdam, Berlin, Tel Aviv and across the United States.

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