Experiencing Art Without Vision with Jana Manuelpillai & Andrea McSwan

We’re switching things up a little this month on Elevenses with CEC as we welcome Creative Director, Production Designer and Art Director Andrea McSwan and Director of The Noble Sage, the UK’s first gallery to specialise exclusively in South Asian contemporary art, Jana Manuelpillai to jointly discuss their views on assumptions, expectations and representation of disability.

Through their shared interest, Andrea and Jana explore the theme of ocular-centrism, the cultural point of view that sight is considered the primary sense. They tackle the supercrip narrative that achievement with disability is somehow ’superhuman’ revealing assumptions and low expectations of ability with disability; art practice with blindness; the rich experience of blindness and the idea that people gain blindness, rather than lose sight.

During their discussion, both guests will highlight artists and their work in and around this notion, as well as some of the main ableist thinking around the representation of blindness and people with visual impairment.

More about Andrea McSwan

Classically trained, Andrea graduated in 1990 from Wimbledon School of Art, winning a BAFTA scholarship to study film set design at the National Film & Television School. Her career began in the art departments for the feature film ‘Judge Dredd’ designed by Nigel Phelps and in TV on ‘Pie in the Sky 3’ and an ‘Independent Man’ with Production Designer, Tom Brown.

Whilst raising her family Andrea worked as a freelance designer on productions for BBC Bristol and Screen South and designed architectural interiors for luxury hospitality portfolios. In 2017 Andrea achieved a 1st class MSc in Animation and Visual Effects from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD), winning the Masters Prize, for her 3D CGI animated film Thaw, inspired by themes of loss and transformation. In 2022 Andrea gained practice-based PhD at DJCAD which explored animation and virtual reality to represent the perceptual-experiences of three professional, award-winning artists with sight-loss. Her research culminated in a fully immersive experimental film More Than Meets The Eye created and viewed in VR.

More about Jana Manuelpillai

Holding more than twenty years’ experience in art galleries and museums such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the Mall Galleries, together with academic qualifications in History of Art and Museology, Jana has proven himself to be a formidable player in the South Indian art scene.

At the age of 21 Jana was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition resulting in him now having central periscopic vision. Jana is currently writing an MA thesis on the representation of blindness and people with sight loss in contemporary horror cinema for Birkbeck University, London.

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