Take a look at the square above. What do you see?
Now take another look. And then imagine that’s all you can see. It’s a tiny taste of a riveting exhibition currently running at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown. Dialogue in the Dark has travelled the world since 1988 and appeared in more than 100 cities, experienced by more than six million people. It’s an exhibition designed to challenge you by taking away your sight and all that you have come to rely upon because of it. An hour-long guided tour in a darkened space that forces you to confront the challenge of not being able to rely on your eyes to see, and having to put your other senses to work. A mind-bender, as you have to force yourself to stop looking for light, to make every move a deliberate one, and to put enormous trust in the people around you.
You are led through different scenarios by a visually impaired guide and it shakes your senses when you realize that there really are none so blind as those who will not see.
Our guide, Andre, amazed me with how confidently he navigated the darkness. I had never really thought of what it must be like to be blind – well not physically – and definitely not for a sustained amount of time. He told us that he was blind from birth, and that he was a keen cyclist (he rides a tandem with a navigator) and a bird “watcher”. He identifies birds by their calls and has a physical sense of them from having held the taxidermied variety. He was confident and gentle as we stumbled around the space, unnerved by each new instruction. As the exhibition has travelled it has provided opportunities for the visually impaired around the world – in South Africa about 97 percent of blind people (there are estimates of up to 1 million) have no formal employment, among them many university graduates.
Days later the experience of Dialogue in the Dark is still playing in my head. I smelled an orange in the darkness and was amazed at its perfume. I thought I would have a better sense of other people in the darkness but had none. Relying on touch and the idea that I would have to reach out to know the difference between a safe and a dangerous situation thoroughly unnerved me.
Enough from me — It’s something you have to try for yourself. So if there’s one thing you have to do in Joburg before it closes on October 31, make it this one, and let me know your thoughts.
* Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is on the corner of Miriam Makeba and President Streets, in Newtown. For times and price of Dialogue in the Dark email dialogueJozi@sci-bono.co.za or call 011 639 8428. And just so you know, there’s great coffee to be had there.