Kenyan artist Tina Benawra is perhaps the only artist in the world who draws in the braille-a tactile writing system for visually impaired people, giving them an opportunity to experience art. While, generally, at galleries, visitors are often strictly prohibited from touching artworks, guests are invited to touch and feel them.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) ahead of World Painters Day, observed on Feb. 26, the 39-year-old artist said her paintings are expressions from her heart to the blind or those with low vision.
Benawra learned braille in school for the sole purpose of incorporating this writing system into her paintings.
“I am motivated by challenges our environment is experiencing and the different people I meet. I take my inspiration from just anything and everything, but prefer to raise awareness about things troubling our society,” she said.
At her studio, busy with brushes and colors, she is working on a painting to raise awareness about the crocodile leather industry in Kenya.
While some people in Kenya raise and breed crocodiles legally with licenses from the Kenya Wildlife Service, others poach them in the wild and sell them for the leather.
“Such is a message that I put in my paintings and the same messages can be read and felt by the blind. I make my paintings, not for the people who can see only but also for the blind who can feel the images and interpret them,” she said.
Benawra’s paintings have been exhibited in top hotels across Kenya. Her work also goes to the Christian Blind Mission, which has been working in Kenya since 1970 in preventing blindness, improving health, and helping people with disabilities go to school, earn a living, and secure respect in their communities.
“I donate braille paintings so that they can be auctioned and the money is used to help visually challenged children,” she said.
Winnie Ongonje, a 30-year-old massage therapist who lost eyesight in 2010 in an accident, said people like her benefit from Benawra’s works.
“We, as people living with blindness, appreciate such initiatives. They enable us to get a chance to appreciate paintings and see them in a way that cannot be done otherwise,” she said, adding that Benawra’s works have helped people living with blindness to understand the beautiful world of creativity and art.
Benawra pointed out that a lack of financial assistance has affected her work, as COVID-19 cut off most sources of her funding. But she hopes the situation changes in the post-pandemic world.