Losing sight, not vision: how a Bronx artist endures blindness

Losing sight, not vision: how a Bronx artist endures blindness
Tony Cruz stands next to his mural that warns of the dangers presented by phone and computer screens
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

Tony Cruz may be losing his sight, but something he will always have is his artistic vision.

Better known as famed graffiti artist Ram2, the Castle Hill native’s vision has been fading away from type 2 macular telangiectasia, which could cause total blindness for the 49-year-old artist.

“In 2009 I was looking at a computer and saw a little dot appear on the screen, at first I thought it was the computer but it wouldn’t go away, then I realized it was my eyes, that’s when it all began,” said Cruz.

Things only got worse for Cruz’s sight. Now he has completely blurred vision in his right eye, with limited sight in the left; if he looks at something too bright he even feels pain in his chest and stomach.

In addition to painting, Cruz struggles with tackling everyday tasks such as driving a car.

His latest project is a mural with prose that warns of the dangers that cell phones and computer screens present to a person’s eyes.

Looking at his artwork on the corner of Westchester Avenue and Theriot Avenue in Soundview, Cruz explained he’s convinced that vibrant screen lighting have contributed to his disease.

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

The poetry opens with “DO NOT KILL YOUR VISION” written in red, followed by “DIM THE LIGHTS” in blue, then “PROTECT THE EYES” in green.

“The red represents the pain of losing eyesight, the blue represents the brightness of screens, and the green represents nature and humanity,” explained Cruz.

“The word ‘vision’ doesn’t just refer to one’s eyesight, it represents purpose and how no matter what happens you must always find purpose and vision,” he added.

Prior to his struggle with his eyesight, Cruz painted over 200 murals around the Bronx, the rest of New York City and elsewhere.

He used the south Bronx and hip-hop culture of the 1970s and 1980s that he grew up in as inspiration; Cruz’s late mother, Felisia Colon also served as the greatest support he could ever ask for.

Later on, Cruz did years of publicity work with famed blind guitarist Jose Feliciano, who he stills stays in touch with and is proud to call a friend.

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

Since Cruz began losing his eyesight he’s connected greatly with the blind community.

He recently launched a vision protection campaign through Baruch College, has been sponsored by the Commission for the Blind and has done work with the Lighthouse Guild.

Cruz is also going to become a certified vision health coach as well.

“I encourage people to reach out to these organizations and please, please have your eyes checked regularly by a doctor, don’t ever lose your vision,” said Cruz.

Later this month he will travel to Las Vegas, to create another mural advocating for eye health and safety. Prior to the trip Cruz wants to add braille to his Soundview mural so everyone will understand his vision.

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