If you lost your sight, how would you describe the last thing you saw?
This is what ten vision impaired Australians have done, describing their last, or most cherished visual memories to an artist and composer each, to bring together the Last Seen showcase.
This extraordinary multi-sensory exhibition and performance, presented by the Queensland Eye Institute in partnership with Griffith University, sees awarded artists and acclaimed composers unite with vision-impaired Australians including decorated veteran Michael Lyddiard, Paralympian Katie Kelly PLY OAM, pianist Jane Britt, UN panellist Santiago Velasquez and 14-year-old Oliver Fanshawe to shine light on preventable eye-related disease.
In the only known project of its kind in the world, their work will form an art exhibition and performance where visitors can not only immerse in the visual art, but also in sounds and music composed to bring the scenes to life.
In Australia, over 13 million people have one or more chronic eye conditions with close to 500,000 living with a vision-impairment or blindness.
Common eye conditions that cause vision loss include cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, yet around 90% of all blindness and vision impairment is preventable or treatable if detected early.
Griffith Pro Vice Chancellor (Arts Education and Law), Professor Scott Harrison said the university is pleased to partner on the project, pioneering new ways for the visually impaired to experience and access the arts, while bringing together the Griffith University Art Museum, Queensland College of Art, Queensland Conservatorium and Griffith Film School to create positive, meaningful change in the community.
Brisbane artist and Griffith Queensland College of Art alumnus, Kathleen O’Hagan, worked with Colombian-born Santiago Velasquez to portray his last seen memory at the age of nine, cycling with friends around his Colombian apartment complex.
“I think what really stood out to me [in Santiago’s description] was the sense of carefree and sense of movement,” Kathleen said.
“A lot of Santiago’s description was in colour—it was a blue bike, with silver handlebars and there were red bricks, so I looked at Colombian sunsets and Streetview to figure out what the colour scope was of his childhood, to be able to then imbue that in the painting.
“As someone who studied portraiture, who loves painting figures and painting environments, and specifically telling stories, this was just a beautiful meld of all that, while contributing to the Queensland Eye Institute’s vision for providing an accessible way to tell these stories.
“It was a wonderful experience.”
The 2023 Last Seen free exhibition will run from 18–29 April 2023 at Griffith’s Grey Street Gallery – Queensland College of Art.
A concert, presented by the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and featuring the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and Choir with the Voices of Birralee will also showcase original musical works inspired by the same stories.
The concert is on Friday 21 April 2023, with tickets available here.