She set out to help visually impaired people get a better feel for art. She learned Braille and incorporated it into her artistic work. Then, she woke up one morning and discovered that everything was a huge mess. That was the day she embossed the alphabet rather than using the traditional raised version of Braille. Now, no one would understand her. Eventually, this extraordinary artwork would serve as the cover of Sanayi313 PAPER.Photography: Nazlı Erdemirel

Please allow me to begin with a short story. Back on October 4, 2020, I bumped into Özgül Kahraman at one of Istanbul’s most beautiful locations, a wonderful garden on the slopes of Yeniköy. Next to it, a gorgeous villa, designed to host artists, featuring large windows, tall trees and stunning views. I was out with my family, checking out the exhibition in the garden at Gate 27. My young daughter needed the bathroom. The ushers pointed us to the white villa. I couldn’t help taking a peek inside as we left the toilet, which was located close to the main door. Heading towards the high-ceilinged main hall, I knew something unusual awaited me. That is where I first set eyes on Özgül’s sincere gaze. She was there and we began to talk about her work. There were sleek raised letters in black on a black spiral-bound notebook in landscape format. She told me it was Braille.

We eventually went outside. It was as if a new window had opened in my life. I was staring out the car window as we headed back home. Then, I remember telling myself “Özgül must do the cover for issue three of PAPER. This issue should raise awareness for the visually impaired.”

Now, one year later, it’s time to hear from acclaimed artist Özgül Kahraman once again.

I would like to hear your side of the story about the day we met.

The artist residency program I was attending at Gate 27 was actually something new for me. So, I wasn’t quite sure of my position. I was trying to develop an idea into a project, but at the same time, I was finding myself conversing with guests. This interaction took me to a completely different place. I’m not a person who likes to talk about my work, but conceptual work only makes sense when you present the entire subtext. I realised that I was able to communicate about my own work much more efficiently when people expressed interest in it. These were my feelings when we met. You seemed like you were on your way out, albeit reluctantly. Seeing your sincerity, curiosity, and excitement made talking about myself a pleasure.

The pleasure was mine. Can you speak about the Braille alphabet? How did you learn it and how do you use it?

I create textures on the body and skin in my work. I wanted to try writing Braille on the body. But there was something missing in my design. I was very unfamiliar with the subject. I realised that I wanted to dig further, so I contacted an association. There, I saw that public surveys were one of the biggest hassles for visually impaired people. It can be very frustrating for them. I’m not a hasty person. I expect the other person to open up a little. The people I met there appreciated this, or that was my impression. They opened up their world to me more than I had expected they would. I tried to access that world as much as possible. Eventually, Ismail, a retired visually impaired teacher, taught me how to read and write in Braille.

Doing my work with a strong command of the Braille alphabet proved to be completely different from the method I had started with. Braille is very aesthetic. Using Braille with transparent materials was even more appealing to me. I think that Braille can be used as a tool to connect with the world of the visually impaired. For example, there is a campaign called Braille Everywhere. They try to incorporate the alphabet into everyday life, for example, on packaging for medicine and on street signs.

During the interview, Özgül taught me how to write my name in Braille. It was a way of developing my empathy for the visually impaired. Another way to do that was to spend a few hours with Çağrı Doğan at Sanayi313, whom I met through Özgül.

As he got out of the car, I realised that I had to guide him to the table where we were going to sit. I enjoyed reading the menu to him and talking about food before deciding what each of us would order. Then we wandered around the shop. He was trying to get a sense of the furniture and objects that inhabit the space by touching them. It took a long time, but it was a pleasure for me to explore the space in this new way. It was the first time that I “touched” everything that I had been “seeing” there for years. I realised how completely different the sense of touch is from the other senses and that it evokes different feelings. Today, I make more room for touching in my life.


Özgül, our beautiful story is on the cover of the magazine. Actually the indented Braille version which reads “Nobody Understands Me” is illegible. Why do you think no one understands you?

Hearing I was an artist, the people I met at the association suggested we visit art galleries while I narrated what I saw. Think about it. I was feeding, in a creative sense, on Braille. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could offer in return and started to do some research. I asked myself, “Is there a way to bring the visually impaired closer to the visual arts? Can they appreciate the visual arts, even if they don’t see the art? What can we do to facilitate this engagement and appreciation?” Unless a person has some knowledge of art (What is art? Why is it important? What are creative processes?), I don’t believe that a blind person can engage fully with art, even if Braille or audio descriptions are available.

So, I decided to develop a way for the visually impaired to connect with art. Gate 27 helped me reach important institutions. I became a member of the Association for the Visually Impaired in Education in order to bring the project to life. The work was too complex to undertake alone.

I had an important appointment on the subject the next day at Gate 27. But I was having no luck in reaching my contact at the Association for the Visually Impaired in Education. That night, I went to bed feeling anxious.

I was still feeling anxious when I woke up in the morning, so I immediately went to the workshop and started working on Nobody Understands Me. I have taken great care to develop my work so that people can sense it even if they can’t see it. This time, I decided to create a work of art that only I can understand. I wrote “Nobody Understands Me” on paper but embossed – pressed into the surface – rather than raised. This was a turning point for me.


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