Imagine a city in total darkness where nothing could be seen and no light could enter. For 45 minutes, you would pass by bars, bridges, parks and car crossings, but they would only be perceived through sounds, smells or touches. This is the sensation proposed by the new exhibition on show at Unibes Cultural, next to Sumaré Subway, in São Paulo, called Dialogue in the Dark.

The exhibition, created in Germany, has already been on display in more than 40 countries, including Brazil. It has already been in São Paulo and is coming back for another season. “This is an exhibition that was mounted in Germany in 1989,” said Andrea Calina, curator of the promotion in Brazil. “It has already passed through 170 cities and 47 countries, and is fixed today in 29 locations. It has already been seen by ten million people,” she said, in an interview to Agência Brasil.

There are four environments that reproduce an actual city. And the idea is that anyone can experience the world in a different way: without the sense of sight, but by practicing empathy. “Many of the show’s messages – besides inclusion and diversity and discussing the prejudices between us and them, who I look like or who is the same as me – also bring reflections about the post-pandemic, such as active listening, human communication, solidarity, cooperation, compassion,” explained Andrea.

Upon entering the exhibition room, the person is given a cane on which one hand will always be supported. With the help of a guide, the visitor will explore the environments with the other hand and recognize himself as part of a new world.

Blind at 13

At the end, the amusing exhibition guide, Sonny Pólito, ends the experience by promoting a chat with the visitor. It is then that he finally tells his story: he went blind at the age of 13.

“I started losing my sight at the age of ten. At the age of 12 or 13 I could no longer see books and magazines. But I managed to finish my studies. Today, I am a graduate, I finished college, and I have been in several companies,” he revealed.

Pólito is one of the founders of the startup Inclue. And in the show, he is the guide who leads a sighted person to get around a city where nothing is seen. “I’ve been trained to be able to make the experience as good as possible. And, if possible, unforgettable,” he said.

“People come in here with a lot of fear because it’s dark. It’s a barrier. But, in the end, our goal is to make it so they can walk and understand what it is like to live without their sense of sight. It is to get a little bit closer to the darkness and understand how these people live without sight. They will go through various environments that are part of everyday life. And they will understand how it is to touch, to hear, and to use their other senses. It is an exchange: outside, people guide me. Here, inside, I can guide people so they can have this experience,” added the guide.

The Agência Brasil reporter participated in this experience together with a group of students and could feel, for example, how difficult it is to move your foot from a higher sidewalk to the street. And then, having to cross the street quickly, before the traffic light closes again for the pedestrian. Remember that, in the exhibition, the traffic light is adapted, emitting sound to help the pedestrian about the moment when he can cross the street. But in everyday life, few of these traffic lights actually exist or work.

Experience

Student and employee of a retail chain Fernando Freire de Oliveira, 18, participated in this group. “It is a very different experience. It’s hard for me to orient myself without having my vision, which is something I pay attention to the most in my life,” he said.

“The hardest part was when we got to the bar and it was very open and everybody got lost. Sonny had to pick us up from every corner of the room,” he said of the showroom experience.

“I wasn’t scared, but a sense of disorientation, of not knowing where I was, of feeling lost. And of needing the help of other people to be able to move. We see here the need to look more at these people who have disabilities,” explained Fernando.

Young apprentice Lucas de Lima Oliveira, 19, is totally visually impaired. “I lost my sight when I was six years old as a result of a stroke and intracranial pressure. And from about three or four years ago I am adapting very well, totally. After I lost my sight, I automatically had the feeling that I needed to adapt to the new world. And now I am doing everything differently,” he revealed.

A curadora da Unibes Cultural, Andrea Calina, e o guia do educativo, Sonny Pólito, na exposição Diálogo no Escuro, na Unibes Cultural. A curadora da Unibes Cultural, Andrea Calina, e o guia do educativo, Sonny Pólito, na exposição Diálogo no Escuro, na Unibes Cultural.

Unibes Cultural’s curator, Andrea Calina, and the educative guide, Sonny Pólito, at the exhibition Dialogue in the Dark, at Unibes Cultural. – Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Along with his friends, Lucas also went through the experience of the exhibition. And he had no difficulty in facing the challenges presented by the room: “I was able to manage well. It was one of the best rooms [I’ve been in]. I adapted very quickly. Here, I was able to get around well, but I think because I’ve been in a lot of places, I always have a dimension of where I’m going in because of the noise, if it’s a very big place,” he said.

He compared the experience in the exhibition hall to being in a real city. “It starts with the sidewalks: here there are no holes in the sidewalks. You walk and you don’t have these things. When they simulated us crossing the street, here [in the exhibition] there was no hole. We don’t run the risk of tripping”, he said.

Stressing that many cities are not prepared to include people with disabilities, Lucas mentioned some difficulties he faces in his daily life. “The streets are not adapted for us. There are holes. The tactile floor sometimes is not present everywhere”, he observed.

For the exhibition curator, the exhibition helps to provoke transformations. “This exhibition is very important because it causes a change in society: a change for those who work, because they break prejudice and barriers and increase employability; and a change for those who come to work, because they put themselves in the other person’s place, exercising empathy. It’s a change for society, making it more inclusive,” concluded Andrea.

The exhibition is free on Thursdays. More information can be found on the site.

Source: Agência Brasil