Navigating the darkness

Originally scheduled to run six months, Holon's experiential exhibit on being blind has been extended for a third year.

blind 298 (photo credit: )
blind 298
(photo credit: )
'Dialogue in the Dark' at the Children's Museum in Holon offers the sighted the opportunity to briefly experience the world of the blind. Small groups of visitors enter a world of total darkness, where for an hour and 15 minutes, they are led by a blind guide and forced to rely entirely on their four remaining senses. They explore seven different spaces - all familiar and recognizable environments, such as a coffee shop or market place - without being able to see them. The first experiential exhibit of this kind was created in the 1990s in Germany and has since appeared in over 100 cities worldwide. 'Dialogue in the Dark' came to the Children's Museum in Holon in July 2004 as a temporary exhibition scheduled to close in January of 2005. But thanks to the large numbers of visitors it attracted, its funding was renewed for 2005, and then again for 2006. The exhibit is still running strong today, though its future is dependent on funding. Last week, 'Dialogue in the Dark' celebrated its 250,000 visitor, making it the most quantitively successful exhibit of its kind anywhere in the world. In the summer of 2006, I visited the exhibit as a counselor on an educational trip for a group of Jewish teenagers who were visiting Israel for the first time. The kids were apprehensive about what they were about to experience. "Over an hour in complete darkness?" I overheard one say to the other. The response was in kind: "I don't think I am going to be able to handle it." I tried for a confidant posture myself, but I was nervous as well. In the end it turned out to be an incredible tour for everyone. In each section of the exhibit, we were encouraged to feel the walls, smell the air, listen to the sounds, or use our sense of taste, whichever was relevant. The more we used our other senses, the closer we got to discovering the environment we were in. Shai, a former guide who is now one of the exhibit's administrators, says that what he most enjoys about working with the groups is "seeing" the process that the individuals undergo: "At first, almost everyone is naturally afraid to enter an hour and fifteen minutes of total darkness. But, slowly, they adjust to the experience, and by the end, they often don't want to leave. They learn tremendously from the experience of darkness and often enjoy the intimacy it offers, being able to say whatever they want during the experience without the fear of people looking at them." Adir, one of the 30 blind (and partially blind) tour guides, has been working for the exhibit since its opening in 2004. "I get asked a range of questions including many about the mundane details of life," he says. "I was once asked how I am able to go to the bathroom without being able to see. While I was taken aback by this question, I realized at that moment the power of this experience. The visitors really want to know the tachlis (the bottom line) of what it is like to live as a blind person." Exhibit director Sarit Nagary, who is also blind, argues that the importance of the exhibit lies with the change that it creates in how visitors perceives blind people: "For some reason, the average person holds a misguided stigma against the blind person, thinking that he or she is mentally retarded; as a result, he or she automatically speaks to him or her more slowly, for example. The exhibit teaches the visitor that being blind does not prevent one from being a normal, functioning member of society." "Every person who visits has a different experience. What unifies everyone, however, is the big 'wow' that they leave with," adds Sarit. "Many return for the second, third and even fourth time." Opening hours and other exhibition details at 1-599-585-858.