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Côd Braille Cymraeg - The art of Welsh braille, Aimee Taylor

(June 01, 2012)

Côd Braille Cymraeg


Aderyn Du, Welsh Braille and Art

Aimee Taylor, Aderyn Du (Blackbird)

Mixed media (including:water colour; acrylic; texture gel; felt; feathers; and bead), 21 x 25 cm

The patterned dots below the blackbird describe the artwork in Côd Braille Cymraeg (Welsh language braille)



Written languages have always captivated me; how some transcripts seem to flow like a pattern across the page, whereas others have inquisitive accents and pronunciations. Since moving to Wales just under 2 years ago, I have found the use of dual language intriguing, especially road signs and markings. It’s always made me feel like I’m abroad; far away from England.

One type of transcript to catch my attention recently is braille. Many of us are familiar with braille to some degree, those curious little bumps that appear on lifts, buses, medicine packets and on the pavements near crossings. Coming from an art and craft background, I started to wonder if arts and crafts were available involving braille, or perhaps I could involve braille within my own practice.

In an attempt to gain some understanding and empathy, I decided to take a trip to a gallery to try something; walking around with my glasses off. That may sound strange, but as a short sighted person, it proved an interesting venture. I found walking around by myself was incredibly frustrating. There I was, stood in a room of what I know to be fantastic works of art, but all I could see was framed messes of blurred colour. I could only discern details within pieces by standing inches away from them. So, when faced with a large piece of work, it was hard to comprehend any real sense of the image. In a way, it was quite alienating. Fuzzy people stood admiring art that I couldn’t really see or appreciate in its entirety, not as it was meant to be viewed. I didn’t even know which section I was in, half the time, as I couldn’t read the signs; placed high up on the wall or above a door. With my glasses back on, it was as if I were suddenly watching a HD television. The experience provided me with a new perspective, leading me to wonder, 'what about art for the visually impaired?'.

 


English BrailleEnglish language braille


Everyone knows we mustn’t touch things in museums; for good reasons of course. But if you were visually impaired, would you want to stand in a gallery and have someone explain paintings to you? What if you could just reach out and touch it? To feel the art, rather than just look at it? Intrigued by this concept, I looked into things further and I’ve come across a number of inspiring projects: a braille graffiti project, started by Scott Wayne in Oregon, USA; an Israeli artist called Roy Nachum, has included braille poems in his paintings; and Blind Art, a charity based in London, which promotes artists of both sight and visual impairment, as well as being involved with exhibitions called ‘Touching Art, Touching You’ and ‘Sense and Sensuality’, both of which are sensory exhibitions, where touching the artwork is allowed. Another exhibition I discovered was called ‘Envision; Braille as Art’; a collaboration between Singaporean artists Susanna Goho-Quek and Kenneth Quek, and Malaysian artist Phillip Wong. Their aim was to encourage the visually impaired to visit art galleries and also to encourage the sighted to explore art through other sensory means, rather than just vision.

Turning to crafts, a surprising variety of handmade braille gifts is available online, appearing in many formats, including French knots, embossing and beads on hand made cards. Braille also appears on bags, jewellery, buttons, watches and bowls. Braille paper is even used within collages, or as a basis for painting. The variety available from just the handmade market alone is incredible.

Example of EmbossingI imagine most of the braille involved in the above exhibitions and handmade objects are in English. Nearly all the signs I’ve come across in Cardiff are bilingual. So what about the Welsh? What do visually impaired Welsh speakers do? Is much braille written in the Welsh language, or do they have to learn English braille instead?

The Royal National Institute of Blind People's (RNIB) website and service was extremely useful and provided some surprising information about Welsh language braille. Although the 6 dot system was originally developed in 1824 by Louis Braille, it was not used in Welsh for many years. According to RNIB Cymru, “The first Welsh braille book was produced in the 1900s. However, the Welsh braille code currently in use is a relatively recent innovation and was first published officially in 1996.”

Thanks to RNIB Cymru, some important publications have been made recently in Welsh braille. They say: “RNIB Cymru has funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and The Welsh Language Board to produce books in Welsh braille. It has recently produced the first English-Welsh/Welsh-English Dictionary in Welsh braille which was in 26 volumes; and also the New Testament and Psalms which on completion was 49 volumes of double sided braille.”

I also obtained a copy of RNIB Cymru's English and Welsh braille alphabet cards, which are extremely intriguing to touch. I intend to use them for reference later. So with all this in mind and wanting to create a piece of work that can be touched, I realised that it has never occurred to me to let people touch my work at exhibitions before. This suddenly seems strange, especially when I consider how often I use tactile materials within my work.

 

Example of Hand Drawn Grid and BrailleExample of Hand Drawn Grid and Braille


I also want to reflect how Wales, in my mind, will always be a place of dual language and so have included both Welsh and English braille in my final piece. I have written in braille once before; creating a card for someone whom I knew was visually impaired. I used doilies and handmade paper in this instance, to create a nice texture, and incorporated a small message on the card in English braille, using a hand drawn grid to ensure correct spacing and a small embossing tool to create the braille itself. This method of creating braille I learnt from ‘Popper & Mimi Paper Crafts’ who provide online craft tutorials.

So incorporating two different braille languages and writing more than just two words, will certainly be a learning curve!

The writing translated into braille is a description of the artwork. The idea is to provide the viewer with clues to help understand the image. The verse is included here:


Aderyn Du    


Yn eistedd yn uchel yn y goeden

Yr wyf yn clywed dy gân a chyd-fymian

Plu duon mor feddal i'w cyffwrdd

Gyda'th lygad barcud a'th big melyn-oren


Blackbird    


Sat up high in the trees

I hear your song and hum along

Black plumage that's so soft to touch

With your beady eye and orange-yellow beak


Overall, I’ve found this whole experience enlightening, bringing to my attention concepts I hadn't previously considered and I am pleased to have created something that is accessible to a wider audience. I enjoyed creating the art work solely with texture in mind and have learnt some new things along the way, not only about braille but about the art world and its connection to its audience.


____________________

 

If you too would like to make something involving braille, there are many ways to discover how to produce it.

Here is a quick step-by-step guide on how braille was incorporated into this particular piece of work.

 

Example of working braille out

Step 1. Using a sheet of paper, I wrote out the wording and underneath each letter wrote the braille equivalent.

Step 2. Next I drew out a grid with the appropriate spacing for braille and copied out the braille from before, but in reverse. So that when I had embossed the image, it was correct on the dot’s raised side.

Step 3. Once the grid and braille were done, I placed it on to another sheet of paper and began to emboss. I found it useful to emboss lightly so that the page underneath got an imprint of the braille and then removed my grid and went over the imprint again.

Step 4. What I was then left with was a completed braille message on the other side!


If you do give braille a go, I would love to see your results. So, please feel free to e-mail me (on aimee.illustration@yahoo.co.uk) pictures of the art and crafts you create!


Aimee Taylor, 1 June 2012


© 2012 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint - All rights reserved

 


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