Still finding beauty: Legally-blind Bronx muralist takes art campaign to UN & Met

Photo by Alex Mitchell

Eyesight and vision are not synonymous terms, according to the Bronx’s legally blind muralist and painter Tony Cruz, who’s etched over 200 murals around the city over 30 years. 

Since 2009, Cruz has suffered from type two-macular telangiectasia- an optical disease that has been and continues to eat away at his rapidly fading eyesight. 

“Looking up at the sun or even a bright cell phone screen makes my eyes burn,” Cruz said, mentioning that it was ‘blue lighting’ from electronics that ignited his rare condition. 

The 50-year-old can’t see a person standing five feet away, let alone drive a car. What Cruz can miraculously still do, however, is create artwork under his ‘RAM2’ moniker that uptown has appreciated since the 1980s.   

Cruz began using his art to open the public’s eyes to dangers of ‘blue lighting’ as part of a vision awareness campaign he calls “Dim The Lights.”  

One of its most recent displays is a poem he wrote, now sprayed on a Westchester Avenue wall with a braille translation in his home neighborhood during the Spring of 2018.

“Even doing this mural was a challenge, if my eyes were any worse, I wouldn’t have been able to complete it,” said Cruz at the time.

That was just the start of his “Dim the Lights” campaign; Cruz’s advocacy has led the graffiti-style artist to speak at the United Nations during its “One Million For One Billion” global impact summit back in February. 

Cruz spoke about the dangers of “blue light” and received a thunderous round of applause from the youth conference. Other delegates told the artist they would be consulting him on upcoming vision awareness projects.

“God was my editor that day and graffiti got me to the United Nations,” the artist said in near disbelief at his turnaround from unfortunate circumstances.

Since then, Cruz has also started teaching art at the Bronx River Arts Center and elsewhere around the borough. 

He’ll be working with fellow visually impaired art students at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. 

Tony Cruz at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Oct. 12.

Cruz will do so through the iconic museum’s “Seeing Through Drawing” program held at the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, especially demonstrating a showcase on graffiti and street art in the process.

“Having the opportunity to let people know that they aren’t alone, to know that vision and eyesight aren’t the same thing, it’s a blessing,” Cruz said. 

Fittingly enough, Cruz is also a longtime friend of famed blind musician Jose Feliciano for whom he did PR work some years ago. 

“I guess it’s ironic what’s happening to me now. When I told Jose that I couldn’t even drive a car anymore he joking yelled back ‘I never could!’” Cruz laughed. “He always used humor to deal with his blindness, which is something that he taught me to do as well,” Cruz said.

Feliciano and Cruz are also collaborating on a track expected to debut around the workshop in February. 

Alex Mitchell