Art through your fingers: at Sicily’s tactile museum

by Giuseppe Ciotta - 2014.12.15
Art through your fingers: at Sicily’s tactile museum
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Welcome the Borges Mediterranean tactile museum in Catania: the Mecca for Braille in Italy, which creates, exhibits and exports 3D reproductions of monuments and works of art. Its aim is to educate people about beauty through touch. We spoke to the director general, Dr. Pino Nobile.

“The museum was founded thanks to its president, Giuseppe Castronovo, within Stamperia Braille, a non-profit organisation supported by the Region of Sicily.” It's financed by regional funds, even though there's an entry fee of €2 for visitors. “But that is a symbolic fee: we are interested in educating,” explains Nobile. “The centre offers a tactile itinerary, with a button that provides orientation information to help get around the museum, where even the floor speaks. With a stick connected to a mobile phone, visitors are guided around the exhibits, thanks to a micro chip. One day we will apply this technology to the exhibits themselves.”

“We also have a Dark Bar,” he continues. “The able-bodied become disabled and vice versa. The bar staff can't see and the bill is in Braille, simulating what it's like for a blind person in a bar. Most museums have 'Do not touch' signs, but these offend blind people, because they see with their hands what we see with our eyes. Here we have signs saying the opposite: 'Not touching is forbidden!'”

The museum is also itinerant, thanks to a fully equipped bus. “We go to town squares and schools to show the works to all. As well as the Dark Bar, we also have a showroom - with aids for the disabled - and the museum, which is set up outside.”

As regards the exhibits, they are made with particular care. “When we make the models, we are careful of which materials we use: whether they feel cold, warm, with textures that feel as natural as possible. Once we've taken pictures of the original, we first of all create a 3D model on the computer. If we need glass, we use glass, we wouldn't use a different material; the same goes for tiles, but we also use wood and resin. The blind person has to 'scan with their hands' to create an image. We made the Messina Bridge: it's a joke with a serious side. When we did it, they asked us which political side we supported, but it's a provocation! For the first time, we made something that we will never see, but which blind people have already seen with their hands. The Teatro Massimo Bellini is one of the best works, as well as the Colosseum and the model of our museum. Our St. Peter's Basilica has been a guest at the Vatican.”

What should a potential visitor do? “They should contact us through our website or by phone,” says Nobile. If it's a small group there's no problem: you can come on the days when we're open. For big school groups or associations, it's better to book in advance.”

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