Dear Liku

You are doing a wonderful job. Keep up the good work for the awareness of the fact that there are Blind people in the world who need our help.

 

Ulrich Pfisterer 

Chairman Blind Football

Tokyo  24 Nov 2014

I prayed for peace as I placed each grain. I hope that many people will see this and bring peace to our world.

 

10-year-old resident of March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster area in Japan

Rio de Janeiro’s Instituto Benjamin Constant, the largest school for the blind in South America, was the site of a Maris exhibition in the summer of 2016, just as the city was hosting the Paralympics. Held in the school’s gallery, the exhibition attracted a wall-to-wall crowd to its opening party, and was viewed by some 2,500 visitors during its course. The state-run TV Brasil covered the first day of the show, which was also the first day of the Paralympics. That evening, the broadcaster presented scenes of the exhibition, along with their coverage of the Games’ opening ceremony. Due to the heavy turnout, the exhibition was extended another week. 

   One of the more memorable aspects of the event was that five of the school’s students visited every day—bringing along friends, family, and classmates each time. Among them was a first-year high school student who said that her favorite exhibit was The Declaration of Maris (2016), whose canvas was covered with a huge poppy. “I love this painting the most! I mean, it’s this bright red flower!” the completely blind girl explained matter-of-factly (photo 1). This particular work is a 110-centimeter square, so it takes a lot of fingerwork to explore each grain of sand. It must have been a Herculean task for her to spend hour upon hour tracing the grains and forming a detailed mental picture of the whole. Yet, amazingly she came to the gallery every day of the three-week show and continued her fingertip journey through The Declaration of Maris. Her thirst for knowledge seemed unquenchable. Someday, she just might become Brazil’s own Helen Keller. 

   Of course, there were students who didn’t seem very keen on paintings in general, but even for them the easily relatable depictions of national flags were a hit. Many were captivated by certain elements of those paintings: the Lebanon cedar of that country’s flag, Switzerland’s white cross, Japan’s rising sun, and so on. And, the flags served as natural teaching opportunities—standing before different paintings, a social studies teacher and a geography teacher spontaneously began giving lessons in their subjects. Even a new flag painting still being worked on fascinated the children. Many of them caressed its surface and voiced their hope for it to be completed soon, saying things like “I can’t wait until it’s finished. I want to see what the whole flag looks like!” 

Two Maris art classes were scheduled for the project in Brazil, but three more were added on site due to their immense popularity. Each gathering consisted of two kinds of activities: having the entire group work together on a flag painting in progress, and having each participant create their own special painting on a postcard-sized canvas. The school’s regular art class teaches pottery to adults, so many participants had experience in working with other art forms. Perhaps because of this, some had fun adding lace ribbons, cardboard, and other materials to their paintings.

   One of Liku Maria’s indelible memories of the Maris workshops was that of a participant who appeared to be in his mid-30s. The man was apparently a manual laborer, as he was dressed in work clothes. The class marked his first time to take an art lesson at the school, and he seemed to have trouble applying the sand to the flag painting. The three teachers in attendance were unfamiliar with him, but they noticed how he sat with a blank expression, hardly placing any sand on the canvas. One approached him and suggested, “This is an art class, so even if you don’t understand everything, think hard about what to do and try to apply sand in your own way.” Still, something seemed odd about his behavior. It was when Liku Maria tried to guide his hands that the problem became clear. The skin of his fingers was cracked from years of labor, and the crevices had become impregnated with sand and the acrylic paint used as an adhesive base on the canvas. Yet, he didn’t say a word, just sitting there and enduring the discomfort. Liku Maria dabbed his affected fingers with a steroid ointment she had brought from Japan, and then wrapped them in plastic wrap from the cafeteria. 

   With his fingers covered, he spent the remainder of the lesson just listening. When a teacher asked him if he wanted to leave early, he responded, “I don’t want to leave! As soon as my fingers get better I want to join everyone in making the flag!” The following week, he returned to the classroom with a smile. Just this experience in itself meant that he was participating in the art class. And, it was a lesson that unequivocally tells us there are visually impaired people who, regardless of their social class or level of education, strongly desire to take art lessons, appreciate paintings, and make their own creations. 

This exhibition was directed by Maria da Gloria de Souza Almeida, a completely blind professor at Instituto Benjamin Constant and one of South America’s leading experts on education for the blind.

   Speaking in an interview afterwards, she faced the camera and said, “Visually impaired people need more than just musical performance as their medium for experiencing art. They also need to experience art appreciation in the form of sculpture and painting. Brazil’s education ministry says that schools for the blind don’t need art classes, but we want to have the pleasure of making paintings and working with different colors and shapes. As humans, we all have the right to enjoy art. The same can be said at all schools for the blind around the world. This is something we want everyone to understand.” As the largest school for the blind in South America, Instituto Benjamin Constant is one of the continent’s leaders in education for the blind. 

   Gloria continued, “We have always strived to foster awareness of the darkness enshrouding Brazil. In a society where many struggle each day to feed themselves, the rights of people with visual impairments and their hardships in employment still remain largely unaddressed. During the Paralympics, the activities of people with disabilities were covered every day by diverse media outlets, but once the torch was extinguished, TV stations went back to just showing able-bodied people. I want to ask the media to rethink how the Paralympics can reshape our society.”

  The Maris art projects at Instituto Benjamin Constant and the world’s largest school for the blind, Perkins, displayed paintings that the sighted and the totally blind could enjoy together. This art opened the door for visually impaired people in the 21st century to experience the world of painting. In the years ahead, Liku Maria will continue to run the Maris Art Project to bring the pleasure of paintings to children at schools for the blind around the globe.

“Without limit”

This is a core value of the Perkins School for the Blind, the world’s largest school for the blind and the alma mater of Helen Keller. In 2010, the year after she invented the Maris Method, Liku Maria Takahashi visited Perkins to give a special lecture on her technique. The junior high principal at the time had decided to let the children at the school judge whether Maris art had value for blind people. Some 17 junior high school students interested in paintings were invited to the lecture and given the opportunity to experience three Maris works. They slowly examined the paintings one by one, with each spending about five minutes per work, while their peers politely awaited their turns in three lines. As soon as the first three children began exploring the paintings with their fingertips, their faces lit up with joy. “I can see it! This is a painting of a railroad. Did you come from Japan on a train, Maria?” said a student checking out Rail way (2010; currently part of the Perkins Museum’s collection and on permanent exhibit). Another student proclaimed, “This peppermint-smelling flower is a peppermint-colored flower, isn’t it? I like this painting of flowers the most of the three, because there are so many flowers in it!” 

  After the students finished enjoying the art, they gleefully asked a barrage of questions, so many that the junior high principal, two art teachers, and Liku Maria’s interpreter had to step in and help explain the paintings. Before anyone realized it, the lecture ran past its allotted time of one hour, as students continued to ask about the paintings and the colors used. Liku Maria received many comments, including: “Thank you, Maria. I’ve gained a new experience.” “I had thought I’d never be able to experience paintings.” “I hope you will keep painting many artworks and show them to us.” 

  The children’s excitement over the paintings profoundly resonated with Liku Maria, becoming a wellspring for her artistic activities in the ensuing years.