Art that creates empathy for China's visually impaired children

'Like a Pearl in my Hand' is a series of portraits of China's visually impaired children, many of whom were abandoned during the one-child policy.

Imagine opening your eyes to complete darkness. For a lot of us it's unthinkable, but for others, it's a daily truth. Although we assume we understand the realities of others, it is difficult to let go of certain assumptions and prejudices, especially when it comes to disability. 

Like a Pearl in my Hand is a heart-warming project by Carina Hesper, a visionary Dutch maker with a predilection for making vulnerability tangible. The inspiration for this piece of art started in Hesper's early teenage years when she experienced the magic of a coffee mug that changed colour when hot liquid was poured into it. It took some years before she translated this inspiration into a tactile piece of art.

The signed edition box, which is named Like a Pearl in my Hand, uncovers portraits of China’s visually impaired children in a very revealing way. When the one-child policy was introduced in 2013, many parents gave up disabled children. Although in 2015 the law changed to a two-child policy, parents were afraid they would be ridiculed for having a disabled child. Touched by the hopelessness of these human beings, Hesper travelled to China to visit the Bethel orphanage and capture the real faces of China's orphans.

Like a Pearl in my Hand became a project about awareness, about understanding and about hope. When photographing an Albino girl and hearing her story about being blind, Hesper realised that we have so much to learn from each other's experiences.

For her final piece, Hesper completed the different portraits she made in China with several layers of thermochromatic ink to make the viewers experience what it means to be without sight. The ink turns the whole portrait black, it is only the heat of one’s hand, which is around 20/25 degrees, that can make the ink transparent for an undefined moment of time. 

“It was the most complex work I’ve ever made, technique and emotion are brought together, but I’ve learned so much from it,” says Hesper. 

The box is a multi-sensory experience that encourages social awareness. People often assume that you can only look at art; Hesper is fighting that assumption by challenging people to forget what they know about the handling of art. Like a Pearl in my Hand is also a fully personalised experience, maybe not the way you might expect. The user decides where to put down a hand and the warmth of this specific hand decides what they will see, so the experience will be different for every single person.

Like a Pearl in my Hand was launched in January 2017 and is presented as a limited and signed edition book of 250 copies, in a special box with texts by Hannes Wallrafen and Bettine Vriesekoop. The box contains 32 prints, all fully coated in the interactive black thermochromatic ink. 

A version of this article by Cecile Cremer was originally published on Trend Tablet