September 2018 Visionary art

Andrew Bastawrous blog on Project Light exhibition

Credit: Lost at Sea (detail) by Rachel Gadsden, photo by artist

by Dr Andrew Bastawrous, Peek Vision CEO and Associate Professor of International Eye Health at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

"Andrew’s copying me…"

My friend Adam was getting more frustrated and decided our art teacher should know what was going on. Mr Hall came over and rather than scolding me told Adam to “stop being ridiculous" - we were both drawing the same still life!

But Adam was right, I was copying him. I wasn’t doing it intentionally, it’s just his drawing had better shading and sharper lines than mine. It was crisper and clearer so I adjusted mine to be more like his. I wasn’t aware that the still life I was looking at was out of focus.

It was only two years later that I was diagnosed with severe short-sightedness and received my first pair of glasses, suddenly seeing the world Adam had been seeing all along.

Like me, 2.5 billion people would benefit from a simple pair of glasses. Thirty-six million people worldwide are blind, yet the majority don’t need to be – cost-effective treatments like cataract surgery or glasses could transform the lives of billions of people, but they cannot access them.

These two issues - awareness and access - separate countless people from the simple solutions to clear vision.

Art collaboration

Project Light is a global art campaign to raise awareness of avoidable blindness with an aim to increase access to life changing eye care services to those who need it. It arose after a shared bus journey with artist-activist Yana Tavanier at a TED Summit in 2016. Yana had partnered with another TED Fellow, artist Julie Freeman, to establish the Fine Acts collective, which works to achieve social change by bringing together activists and artists from across the world.

In the spirit of TED, we explored ideas and came up with a plan, and before we knew it several leading artists attending the event told us they were keen to contribute.

One year later I was introduced to Sammy Baloji, a recipient of the Rolex Artists and Protege award and Rolex encouraged us to collaborate.

Sammy, a gifted photographer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo joined the collective and with a grant from Rolex we were able to pursue our idea.The result was Project Light, which opens its first exhibition, Shared Vision on 28 September. The exhibition has been over two years in the making, and features incredible work from sighted, partially-sighted and blind artists. The works explore what it really means “to see” - as the visionary activist and changemaker Helen Keller put it: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

My journey in to eye care has led to me meeting incredible people, sighted, partially-sighted and blind, health workers, artists, activists and entrepreneurs. In these amazing melting pots ideas and collaborations form, Project Light being one of them. We want to inspire and challenge, because, to quote Helen Keller once again: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.”

Shared Vision, the opening exhibition of Project Light, opens in London from 27 September - 7 October.

Visit the Project Light website for further details:

Follow Project Light on social media to find out how you can be part of the project:

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