In 1991 the South African artist Willem Boshoff started working on an ambitious project that would earn him a great deal of recognition both locally and internationally. The Blind Alphabet, as this ongoing project was called, was the highlight of the first Johannesburg Biennale in 1995, Africus 95, and had four international showings, in Birmingham, Atlanta, Lisbon and São Paulo.
The project consists of a multitude of carvings to represent obscure conceptual words that can be translated into three-dimensional shapes, each carved in a different type of wood. These shapes are housed in black mesh containers and each word and its meaning is inscribed in Braille on an individual sheet of aluminium attached to the lid of the container.
As Boshoff quipped about this work: ‘Most frequenters of art galleries are artists, art critics, and art students who are visually aware/literate because they have received special training in visual appreciation. Blind people, on the other hand, need constant guidance and attentions to cope with things that come easy to the sighted. Your average art gallery is not “blind-friendly”. This work focuses on that state of affairs, and enables English-speaking blind people to reverse the pattern and guide the sighted in the privileged environment of the art gallery.’
The MTN SA Foundation, who owns 40 works from the series that begins with the letter B, from Babery to Bigeminate, has joined forces with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Art Gallery to host the latest iteration of their annual collaboration. Due to the physical limitations and restrictions brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, an exhibition in a gallery space became impossible and so a digital experience of The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate was conceptualised, with plans for a physical exhibition in 2021.
Navigate through the articles:
Willem Boshoff exhibition – The Blind Alphabet
Moving Cube – a newly developed UJ Art Gallery website
Mentorship, education and the Emerging Artist Development Programme – how to enter
Exploring The Blind Alphabet with MTN Foundation’s Niel Nortje
Curating context online: Annali Cabano-Dempsey discusses UJ’s Moving Cube