‘It feels like a rebirth’: A visually impaired student’s journey of inspiration

Sculpture course at Cork College of Further Education giving blind and partially sighted learners a chance to shape new possibilities

Deirdre Murphy (38) is losing her sight due to a rare genetic disease but is determined to teach her eight-year-old daughter about the importance of overcoming challenges.

“When I was diagnosed five years ago, I lost myself a little bit,” says Murphy, a mother of one, who lives in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork.

“I had this image of myself sitting in a corner, doing nothing. It hit me hard. But I want my daughter to know that you set your own limits. I want her to see that I’m just differently abled. You can try things that are challenging or scary.”

That is why she signed up to a further education course in sculpture, the first of its kind, aimed at visually impaired students.


The pilot programme at Cork College of Further Education and Training, with charity Fighting Blindness, is giving partially sighted or blind learners a chance to embark on an artistic journey that defies conventional limitations.

The course is the brainchild of artist and course facilitator Krzysztof Rosa. He is passionate about inclusivity in art and believes visually impaired people possess a unique gift for art, particularly sculpture.

He had an epiphany more than a decade ago when making a video documentary about people with a disability.

“I met a 12-year-old girl – she could barely see – with her mother. I looked strange at the time. I had these dreadlocks. She said, that man looks interesting and asked if she could touch my head. I said no problem,” Rosa said.

“I don’t consider myself as someone who believes in God, but when she touched my head, I felt like she could see right through me. It was a touch of God. Everything disappeared. Time stopped.”

He feels the heightened sense of touch among students with a visual disability potentially makes them great sculptors.

“I do believe there are master sculptors among the visually impaired community, and the greatest reward is giving them a platform to showcase their skills,” he says.

“We’re encouraging students to find their own way. Paper, clay, steel, stone, whatever they feel comfortable doing. It’s about encouraging students to express themselves. It’s not about presenting things as they are; it’s how they feel them.”

The 10 participants in the eight-week course, which began last January, were asked to sum up how they felt in a single word, and use this as inspiration for their own work.

For Murphy, it was “rebirth”.

“I explained that I wanted to find myself, to find purpose again and rediscover myself. I felt the life I was going to have when I was growing up, that died. I lost the life I was going to have,” she says.

“So, this feels like a rebirth . . . I’ve gone from feeling a bit hopeless to hopeful. I’m realising that there are options I never though about: pottery, sculpture. I’m an artistic person and have always been interested in art, creativity, singing, music.

I was touching my husband’s face with my eyes closed, the other day. I wanted to make the association of what his face feels like without sight

—  Deirdre Murphy

“This is a different grasp on creativity . . . it used to be about using my eyes – but now I am touching material, putting things together with my hands, not just my eyes. It’s a whole new world for me.”

She is making progress sculpting a phoenix rising from flames, using a mixture of different materials.

Murphy’s peripheral vision has gone, meanwhile, while she retains about 15-20 per cent central vision and walks with the aid of a cane.

“As long as I can see my daughter’s and husband’s smile, I’m happy,” she says.

Murphy could lose her sight completely but the course, in its own way, is helping her come to terms with it.

“I was touching my husband’s face with my eyes closed, the other day. I wanted to make the association of what his face feels like without sight,” she says.

“My sight might stay the way it is, or be gone in a month . . . I used to think I could only be artistic with my sight. This is making me realise that I have other senses too. It’s made me excited again.”

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