November 14, 2007

Forgotten Sculptors: 4. A Blind Sculptor

Istituto Nazionale dei Ciechi di Guerra, Rome. On the floor, two bronzes by Filippo Bausola (Vittorio Emanuele III and Benito Mussolini), circa 1934

The last image is a hailstorm of little black stones against the leaden gray field of the sky. Then an awful burning sensation all over my face, stabbing pain in the eye sockets. I was lying in a bed, voices whispered so softly that the words were almost incomprehensible, though they seemed to be talking about me. I thought I heard the word "extraction". The smell of chloroform and, in the distance, moaning.
Five years ago, when I delivered my work to the Head of State, Benito Mussolini, he was very surprised and pleased. He told me he had rarely seen portraits of such accuracy, and when he found out that I had made the work only from memory, and by touching some other sculptures, like that of Selva, he allowed me to touch his face so I would know what a good job I had done.
For the regime I was some kind of hero: blinded by a grenade near the end of the war, I had begun to sculpt: I shaped clay, sculpted stone, received dozens of commissions, and today my sculptures are found in many public buildings in Rome, the great home of the invalids, the ministry, the headquarters of the blind veterans.

Over time, though, I seemed to understand that another possibility existed, apart from that of trying to reproduce the forms of a face, the proportions of a body as accurately as I could. It was Zighina, daughter of the sun. She agreed to be the model of a blind sculptor, and she let me touch not only her face but also her whole body. I understand almost nothing of her language, and she cannot speak mine, but she guides my hands, and with hers she helps me to know her in the only way I can. With an ingenuousness (or indifference?) that to me seems like naturalness and complicity, she let me be free to feel pleasure when I touch her.
Since I became blind I have always said that sounds seem almost like an intrusion, that the sense of smell is useless, and that eating serves only to fill the stomach. I said that the blind have eyes in their fingertips. But since Zighina arrived touch gives me a pleasure that I had never imagined. Today I think my art can go beyond color and figure. I want to be able to make sculpture that reproduces the sensuality of a smooth surface, not the form of an arm or a thigh; the pleasure of caressing a throbbing breast, not its perfect roundness. I would like to be a pioneer, to make sculpture something it has never been: an art of the touch.

Freely adapted from the story of Filippo Bausola (1893-1952), who became a sculptor after losing his sight in World War I, and from the film Môjuu (English title: Blind Beast) by Masumura Yasuzo (1969).

(Translation: Steve Piccolo)