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A Different Touch Of Urban Art: Graffiti For The Blind

The Blind's Braille graffiti
The Blind's Braille graffiti
Vincent Desgre

NANTES - “Do not touch...” When she ran her fingers over this Braille inscription on the wall of the Sainte-Croix church, in the city of Nantes, western France, the young blind woman burst out laughing.

After translation, her sighted friends were also won over by the irony of the artist. Working under the pseudonym The Blind, the graffiti artist in question is a 30-year-old man who wears glasses, but can actually see pretty well.

In his apartment, in the center of Nantes, shelves are crammed with books about street art, and his clothes are covered in paint. Clearly, the man has a passion for graffiti.

For a long time, he practiced his art illegally, but now he makes a living from it. He teaches courses in graffiti art, takes part in exhibitions and creates murals for private buyers and institutions. The Blind is only one of his many aliases, the one he uses on the website he created to showcase his “graffiti for the blind.”

Equipped with a stencil, a glue gun and little balls of plaster he makes beforehand – for the raised Braille dots, he creates Braille graffiti all over Nantes, and in the rest of Europe when he travels. “I even made a few in the United States,” he says in a husky voice. Among all the passers-by who saw and touched his Braille inscriptions, many probably did not understand them. “That’s what I find interesting about it: you need to be at least two to decipher them; one to see, and one to touch.”

Sitting outside a café in the old Bouffay neighborhood, where he has created many graffiti, he gives passionate explanations about his work, and rants about other aspects of it. He has dozens of anecdotes to tell. For instance, a few years ago, he stole one of the fluorescent vests worn by public workers in Nantes, which allowed him to create a piece of Braille graffiti in the center of the city without being bothered by the police. “I told them I was making a street sign for blind people, they told me it was a very good initiative, and they left,” he laughs.

Not seen, not caught

To fully understand what makes The Blind tick, you need to know about the artist's teenage years. During the mid-1990s, he was thrown out of a museum for touching an impressionist painting during a school outing. “There was a rough and uneven texture,” he says. He was traumatized by the incident.

From then on, and despite being dyslexic, he started to focus on words and letters through the prism of graffiti. After studying at the Nantes Beaux-Arts fine arts university, he decided to make a career of graffiti. Since it was illegal and anti-establishment, he needed to find the ideal place to do it, and to act fast.

He came up with the idea of making graffiti for the blind in 2004: “I realized that blind people didn’t have access to our urban art, even though it’s meant to be seen by as many people as possible.” That is when he started learning Braille. Pretty soon, his messages started appearing on the walls of Nantes. Then in Vienne, Budapest, Helsinki, Saint Petersburg and even... Chernobyl!

Most of his graffiti has a double meaning, and often relies on a vocabulary that refers to sight and touch. They also relate to the environment in which they are located: he wrote “Dark mood” (Broyer du noir) in the Paris catacombs, “Love is blind” (L’amour rend aveugle) in Venice, “Not seen, not caught” (Pas vu, pas pris) on the wall of the Nantes courthouse, “Your money or your sight” (La Bourse ou la vue) in front of the Brussels stock exchange. Blind people appreciate it: in Brussels, the Braille League hired him to decorate their offices.

He dreams of the Great Wall of China, “the biggest wall on earth.” He scratches his beard, wondering if one day, he will dare tackle such a symbol. A challenge. Always provocative.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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