British Columbia

Carmen Papalia, blind Vancouver artist challenges artistic tradition

Vancouver artist Carmen Papalia's may be blind, but he hasn't let that slow down his artistic career.

Papalia has been commissioned to work at museums around the world

Carmen Papalia leads a group of artists on his blind walking tour. (CUE Art Foundation)

At the heart of Carmen Papalia's work is a question: How do you see art with your eyes closed? 

Although he's blind, the Vancouver artist has not let his disability stop him from working in some of the most recognized museums in the world.

Papalia has made a brief stop home after returning from artist-in-residence posts in both the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Model Contemporary Arts Centre in Ireland.

"There was a point in time where I had to choose not to use vision as the centre of understanding the world," he told On the Coast's Stephen Quinn. The 33-year old artist wasn't born blind, but lost his vision while he was in college. 

Papalia says his work is now dedicated to challenging how museum visitors experience art beyond just the visual component.

"There's just so many ways into an art experience, and the visual experience is just one way. For me it's as simple as going to a gallery and having a friend describe things to me."

Non-visual walking tours

One of his most successful projects consists of leading a group of people on walking tours in which they're not allowed to open their eyes.

During some of the tours, participants have experienced panic attacks and have even broken down crying, but Papalia says at the end of it, they learn to understand their cities with a whole new perspective.

"I've done these walks all over in about 12 different cities. It's to introduce them to a new way of being in the world, one that doesn't centre around vision."

Papalia will be leaving Vancouver once again in a couple of weeks. The Elsewhere museum in North Carolina has invited him to create a public art project.

"I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do yet. I'm thinking of doing some kind of non-visual mapping project leading people one-on-one and asking them to describe their non-visual sensory perceptions."

To hear more of this story, click the audio labelled: Blind artist challenges the idea of visual arts