The Island of the Colorblind

The Island of the Colorblind

In the late eighteenth century a catastrophic typhoon swept over Pingelap, a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. One of the survivors, the king, carried the rare achromatopsia-gen that causes complete colorblindness. The king went on to have many children and as time passed by, the hereditary condition affected the isolated community and most islanders started seeing the world in black and white. Achromatopsia is characterized by extreme light sensitivity, poor vision, and the complete inability to distinguish colors. In Micronesia achromats adapt to their reduced level of visual functioning (due lack of resources like sunglasses and tinted lenses) by using visual strategies such as blinking, squinting, shielding their eyes, or positioning themselves in relation to light sources.

Portraying the islanders that by their fellow Micronesians are referred to as ‘blind’ resulted in a conceptual selection of images that mask or empower their eyes, their face, or their ‘vision’ and invite the viewer to enter a dreamful world of colorful possibilities. Color is just a word to those who cannot see it. If the colorblind people paint with their mind, how would they color the world, the trees, themselves?

Daylight is to bright to bear, moonlight turns night into day. Flames light up in black and white, trees turn pink, a thousand shades of grey, a rainbow revisited. Initiating my visual research in FSM I tried to find ways to envision how people with achromatopsia see the world. I experimented with different ways of photographing, trying to see the island through their eyes. ‘The Island of the Colorblind’ consists of three kinds of images; ‘normal’ digital black and white photos, infrared images and photo-paintings. Together they are metaphorical attempts to visualize how the colorblind people see the world.

‘The Island of the Colorblind’ as an exhibition consists of two parts.

Part 1: A multimedia exhibition, with the three types of pictures; black and white photos, infrared images and photo-paintings. These images are presented in different ways: images printed on matte photo paper and mounted on aluminium, duratrans prints mounted in handmade light-boxes with wooden frames, blue backs (wallpaper), framed photo-paintings, images printed directly on wood and aluminium, wooden boxes containing Ipads with videos and a sound system for the audio. Video-portraits: I asked the colorblind islanders ‘to look into the light’ and documented the movement of their eyes in video as well as in photo-portraits showing how it is hard for them to bear the light. The videos are presented in wooden boxes forcing the viewer to look the subject straight in the eye, the subject looking back, with great difficulties. The distance between the eyes of the viewer and the Ipad is measured so that it is hard to focus, referring to the bad eyesight, the difficulties of seeing, being partly visually impaired which is part of the condition achromatopsia. It is meant to put the viewer in a situation that triggers them to think about what it is like to be completely colorblind and look at the project from an empathic perspective.

Part 2: ‘The Island of the Colorblind’ was turned into an immersive painting-installation that is meant to make the viewer experience what it is like to be/paint colorblind. The installation takes the idea of cooperatively creating content with subject and viewer another step further. The space the viewer enters, consists of four walls covered in 4 infrared wallpapers, picturing the Micronesian island, on the inside. On the outside it is a ‘work in progress’ that grows as participants pin the painting they made on the wall outside when leaving the space. Visitors entering the room are invited to sit down. On the table in front of them they find a set of headphones, paint, water and brushes and printed pictures. As they put on the headphones a voice guides them through the painting-process while telling them the story of the colorblind community on the island Pingelap. The text of the audio used in “The Island of the Colorblind -painting installation’’ is based on the mythical story of how the islanders believe colorblindness came to the island and is mixed with quotes and questions that came up during the painting sessions with the achromats.

The Island Installation Idfa Overview from Benny Arts on Vimeo.

IDFA 2016 | DocLab Interactive Conference | Beyza Boyacioglu, Matt Romein, Sanne de Wilde from idfa on Vimeo.


Sanne De Wilde - Island of the Colorblind from Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg on Vimeo.

Details: Softcover
UV-sensitive, changes in sunlight

22,5 x 28 cm
160 pages, 85 color illustrations
Out of print
ISBN 978-3-86828-826-1
Artist: Sanne De Wilde
Texts: Arnon Grunberg, Azu Nwagbogu, Oliver Sacks, Katharina Smets, Duncan Speakman, Roel Van Gils, Sanne de Wilde
Design: Tim Bisschop