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The power of the arts in Medway

20 July 2021

A new exhibition that has kept sight impaired, blind, deaf or hard of hearing artists connected through the pandemic.

Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, in partnership with the Mess Room, Kent Association for the Blind, Peer Arts and Deaf Peer Arts, are pleased to announce the opening new, temporary exhibition at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.

Hidden Heroines: by the Mess Room and Friends, is an exhibition of artworks by local people who are sight impaired, blind, deaf or hard of hearing in response to The Historic Dockyard Chatham’s ‘Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of women of the Dockyard’ exhibition. The exhibition will be on display in No.1 Smithery, from Wednesday, July 21 until Tuesday, August 31 2021.

Led by local artists Wendy Daws and Christopher Sacre, co-founders of the MESS ROOM, a community arts studio based at Sun Pier House, Chatham, artists from the Kent Association for the Blind, Peer Arts and Deaf Peer Arts were invited to create work in response to the newly opened exhibition ‘Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard’ at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.

COVID-19 pandemic restrictions meant the art group were unable to meet for over a year. This project was developed to give local artists the opportunity to reconnect with each other and their local history. Every artist rose to the challenge of ‘art homework’ and as a result have created an incredible exhibition.

Katherine Barr, Head of Client Services, Kent Association for the Blind, said: “After the difficulties of COVID-19, this fascinating project was a wonderful way to bring Kent Association for the Blind’s Medway Art group back together. The exhibition is an amazing celebration of their work and a great opportunity for local people to discover what people with sight impairments can achieve.”

Alexandra Curson, Curator, Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, said: “COVID-19 has thrown up many challenges for people. For those sight impaired, blind, deaf or hard of hearing the pandemic restrictions had additional challenges. The Royal National Institute for the Blind reported higher rates of isolation and subsequent depression among sight-impaired people in normal times. However, over the last year, for people that need to touch objects and surfaces to make their way around or rely on British Sign language or lip reading, life suddenly became much tougher. Through working in partnership with the Mess Room, we have reconnected local artists and given them a creative output during what has been an incredibly challenging time. The resulting exhibition is wonderful and has allowed us to interpret our new exhibition in new ways, to new audiences.”

Helen King, artist, said: “Before my sight loss I went to art college and worked with children making art displays. I loved to paint. When my vision was damaged, I thought that life had ended. The art group inspired me to try and paint again, and that world opened for me again. The group is so encouraging and friendly. We understand each other’s difficulties support each other’s triumphs. And it’s wonderful to know that we can still produce beautiful and interesting things. This painting of Poppies, entitled Light and Hope through Darkness, is the first painting I did after my stroke I had last year.”

Light and Hope through Darkness by Helen King

Norma Benham, Member of Peer Arts, said: “I have been looking at the graffiti scratched into Chatham Dockyard bricks for many years. This has evolved into this work and a record of the words and messages from those that have walked, lived and worked here before me. It occurred to me how many factories and industries would have benefitted by the Dockyard using their machinery. I have portrayed elements of this as graffiti on my painted bricks. I love the patterns and shapes created by electrical boxes, these ones can be found near the Ropery Office and are some of my favourites. The pictures depict words and letters that appear on all aspects of the yard, buildings, ships and very fabric of one of my favourite places to spend my time in – the Chatham Dockyard.”

Bricks and Fuses by Norma Benham

New Access Tours at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust aims to ensure there is a legacy for this project by using the new exhibition to launch an upcoming programming of audio described and British Sign Language (BSL) tours. The Trust is committed to working with Kent Association for the Blind to provide awareness training to the museum, helping its staff to provide a excellent experience for visually impaired visitors.

British Sign Language Tours:

  • Saturday, August 14 (10.30am – 12.30pm)
  • Saturday, October 9 (10.30am – 12.30pm) – family friendly
  • Saturday, March 12 (10.30am – 12.30pm)

Audio Described Tours:

  • Friday, August 13 (10.30 am – 12.30pm) – Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard
  • Saturday, October 16 (10.30am – 12.30pm)

The MESS ROOM will also be hosting family art workshops at The Historic Dockyard Chatham on Thursday, August 5th and Saturday, August 21st.

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