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I’ve never really enjoyed art exhibitions – music is my thing – and as a visually impaired person, I often find it hard to read the artwork descriptions. I was curious, therefore, to experience Judith Jones’ audio description of the Rita Angus exhibition at Te Papa.

Sam Morgan in front of Rita Angus' painting, "Boats, Island Bay"
Sam Morgan in front of Rita Angus' painting, "Boats, Island Bay"

My interest in audio description started last year while I was completing a research project at Massey University on making music technology more accessible for blind and low vision people. The resulting creative work was a set of audio lessons describing the physical outlay (buttons and sliders) of a piece of music equipment.

I took the lift to Level 4 at Te Papa and was handed an iPod to listen to the audio tour. Te Papa provides the iPods and headphones but if you prefer, you can bring your own device and headphones.

The tour started by giving me a brief history of Rita Angus’ life. This is accompanied by a large-scale projection featuring the rugged, dramatic landscapes of central Otago captured by Angus, who lived there during the 1940s and 1950s.

The tour then guides you through the three exhibition rooms, describing the surroundings, the concrete floor, the white walls, and the stairs to the left as you walk in.

The audio descriptions are comprehensive, not only describing the paintings for blind people but also giving context to each of the artworks and brief insights into Angus’ life.

One of the audio descriptions of Landscape (Wanaka) particularly struck me. It describes the ripples in a dark pond and then says how it would feel cold to walk through. For me, this turned a static artwork into a living experience that made me feel included.

Visiting the exhibition was a highly immersive experience and I would recommend the audio described tour to all visitors. It is a prime example of how universal design improves experiences for everyone.

Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist closes at Te Papa on Anzac Day 25 April.  

 

Audio description illuminates the Rita Angus exhibition

 

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