Mastering the senses: Student overcomes deafness to graduate

An Aberdeen artist graduated with a Master of Fine Art (MFA) from Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art on Friday 9 December despite suffering from severe deafness.

Susan Hepburn Fine ArtSusan Hepburn (65) from Milltimber was left partially deaf at the age of 28 after battling tonsillitis and meningitis. The condition has deteriorated over the past thirty years, meaning Susan is now severely deaf and uses a hearing aid.

Susan worked as Project Secretary for the On the Edge Research Project at Gray’s where she also undertook a series of short courses focusing on her passion for photography before embarking on her Masters.

She explains: “Seeing other students’ art work and exhibitions fired my enthusiasm to embark on a postgraduate degree, I knew it would be a challenge but wanted to take my knowledge and skills as an artist to the next level.

“Being severely deaf, I needed a note-taker for tutorials and lectures. This allowed me greater communication and meant I could take part in meaningful discussions which greatly improved my confidence in speaking in public.”

As Susan had studied alone for her undergraduate degree from the Open University, the environment at Gray’s was a real eye-opener.

She says: “At Gray’s I found myself working with tutors, students and art professionals. Suddenly I was confronted with a multitude of different creative ideas whilst also trying to explain and develop my own art practice. I had to rely a lot on lip-reading which was difficult, but the staff and students at Gray’s were very understanding.”

The talented artist exhibited her work to the public earlier this year at the Masters Degree Show, where she created an installation featuring photographs, film and ‘concrete poetry’ exploring her experiences in dealing with deafness by posing the question: ‘What does deaf look like?’

Susan adds: “Producing and exhibiting my work to members of the public was extremely nerve-wracking! The critical feedback from visitors and from university colleagues was brilliant and has helped me hone my art practice.

“The support and guidance of RGU’s Disability and Dyslexia Service was essential in allowing me to fully participate in the course. The culture and learning environment at Gray’s School of Art is very motivational and inclusive, I’ve really found it a wonderful, emotional and creative journey.

In the future, Susan would ideally like to study for a PhD and explore the social implications and public awareness of hearing and the senses.




Issued by:

Sarah Grieve

Communications Officer

Robert Gordon University



AB10 1FR

Tel: 01224 262206