|The art committed in improving the life conditions of the visually impaired|
Dimitris Kapetanou was born and raised in Florina. He currently lives in Thessaloniki, where he works as a visual artist. His work titled braille was bestowed with the Mataroa Award, granted with the intention of bringing forth up-and-oming young artists. In Kapetanou’s work blind and visually impaired people take center stage, as the narrators of the visual exhibition. At the same time, however, it works as an atypical performance as well. These people find themselves in a vantage point thanks to their ability to touch-read the texts written in braille, and through the help of tactile paving and the use of the white cane.
On the other hand, people who have not lost their sight, therefore have no knowledge of the braille code, despite using their senses of sight and touch, are suddenly in the shoes of the visually impaired and the blind; they fail to comprehend the content of the work, experiencing the same emotions as the blind and the visually impaired when they visit exhibition and art venues and feel unable to interact with wall-mounted works of art.
He first studied at the School of Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, before following the path of his dreams, by enrolling at AUTh’s Department of Visual and Applied Arts. Upon completing his graduate studies, he went on to have his master’s degree on “Art and the Public Sphere” at AUTh, majoring in “Historical, Political and Interpretative Research of Art”.
As he points out, in tandem with his studies he began to take a closer look at the visually impaired people in his neighborhood, where the School of the Blind is housed, becoming alarmingly concerned over the lack of accessibility to public spaces and how it affects these people’s everyday life. Despite not having any visually impaired cases in his family and amical background, nor having suffered from such a problem himself, he got in contact with the Center for Education & Rehabilitation for the Blind of Northern Greece in order to learn the braille reading and writing system.
“I decided that my thesis would take the form of a conceptual work based on my identifying features as an artist at the time: obsession and lining-up. After all, these features are semantically
integrated in the textured dots of the braille code. My goal was to trigger an inversion of the preponderant definition of sight”, he stresses out. As to what ignited his first spark of inspiration, here’s what he has to say: “I thought of creating paintings made exclusively by texts written in
braille code. The content of the texts was drawn from interviews conducted with blind or visually impaired, who shared with me the way they conceive, feel and experience the notion of color”, he explains.
Each painting is linked with a different color. Α total of 12 works came out of the answers given by three interviewees in separate meetings. Α 53-year-old visually impaired woman, who used to have better eyesight, recalls her colored memories. A 25-year-old can only distinguish color tones, in other words how bright or dark are certain objects, and only at a close range. The third interviewee is a 15-year-old child, blind by birth, who can see colors through his imagination, having retained information given by his entourage regarding the association of certain colors
with objects, materials, feelings, scents and textures,” says Mr. Kapetanou. Ιt is truly noteworthy that just one of the colors, purple, was not defined by any of the three interviewees.
The installation tackles the issue of inclusivity in exhibitional venues. That is why it made sure to provide a series of parameters that serve this purpose, such as the access for people with disabilities, the printed form of the works in braille code, the access for wheelchairs, the audio description in Greek and English for blind people who do not know the braille code, as well as printed transcripts of the texts so that all attendees who are not blind can fully understand the interviewees’ answers after completing their tour in venue.
“The answers written in braille on the works are highly original and exceptional for all those who
have never interacted with visually impaired people. Within the limited scope of an interview I cannot go over each and every one of them thoroughly and in detail. However, if I had to pick one that would be the 15-year-old’s answer that he associates the silver color with the moon, whereas the answers given by me and his mother were white and yellow, respectively. Therefore, we understand that everything is subjective and fluid. Even colors. Even for the ones who see.”
Is art committed in improving the life conditions of the visually impaired? “We must acknowledge that their lives would be a whole lot easier if we gave them a helping hand in several aspects of everyday life. If texture paving was placed everywhere, if audio traffic lights operated in the pedestrian crossings, if more documents were printed in braille code. All these little things would not only offer them independence, but most of all they would demonstrate a disposition towards inclusivity and respect,” explains Dimitris Kapetanou. “On a personal level, I want this work to serve as the stepping stone of a series of new works focusing on pivotal topics that revolve around visually impaired people, topics that we have not dared to address, as was the case with color,” he added.
As a young artist, receiving the Mataroa Award “was surely a very significant moment, not only for the joy I felt as an artist, but also because it symbolizes a change towards a more socially oriented approach on art and society. At that very moment I realized the key role played by my humanitarian and academic studies in the completion of an original conceptual work.”
He envisions his future in the field of visual research and seeking of new and modern visual art roads. “The way I see it, notions such as empathy and inclusivity, as well as the implementation
of practices that promote social osmosis, are necessary to be taken into account by contemporary visual artists,” he pointed out.
His parents and brothers stood by his side in his first steps, as did his AUTh professor Yorgos Tsakidis and his CERB teacher Yorgos Karvelas. His twin brother, Alexandros Kapetanou, was
also among the Mataroa Awards winners, showcasing a work that deconstructs the notion of prohibition. Dimitris Kapetanou concluded by admitting that he does not place art “above
anything else”. On the contrary, he argues that art “is not a matter of talent, as what counts the most is an acute perception and the will to learn. Everything else can be found through practice,
as long as you have the zest and the time to keep on trying. Whatever job is able to produce an aesthetic and harmonious outcome falls into the definition of art as far as I am concerned. As for the label of “contemporary” in art, it applies to every work of art created with the purpose of social orientation that succeeds in its mission.”
The next presentation of Dimitris Kapetanos’ work will take place at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation in Athens from 13 to 28 May. As he says, two more participations in exhibitions of other work will follow in June and September in Athens, while in Thessaloniki he will present new work next November at the gallery of Lola Nikolaou.
Dimitris Κapetanou is a graduate of AUTh’s School of Political Sciences, an honors graduate of AUTh’s School of Visual and Applied Arts, as well as an honors graduate of the AUTh’s master “Art and the Public Sphere”, with a major in “Historical, Political and Interpretative Research of Art”. He is the recipient of the Mataroa Award within the framework of the 6th Art Thessaloniki, held in November 2022, for his work titled braille.