the first time, I met his work. a sculpture. a marble veiled Christ in the hallway of CBM Italia head office. then I listened his name. and part of his story. that continues to be told in the dvd An Indian tree. a CBM production. directed by Silvio Soldini and Giorgio Garini. and as I watched the movie I understood that my life had changed. that I had embarked on a new journey. has this ever happened to you? everything is ordinarily the same as the day before and all of a sudden it changes. I did not even know what it meant. not even now, several months later. but nothing has never been the same as before. nothing will be the same again. I watched this man teaching children with and without disabilities. to touch their body in order to see themselves. to use their hands to know themselves. with a spontaneous smile and not a single complex. and I wished I could meet him. know him. in order to know myself too. reproducing myself in clay. I wished I could learn to touch in order to feel. and look. and I asked for his telephone number. One morning I went to the Chiesa dell’Arte by train. this is the name of his studio: the church of art. a workshop. a museum. a few kilometres from Bologna. I got off in a small countryside station. it smelled of the countryside. and under the sun. in the silence of a deserted road. not even a dog around. I walked in a small village resembling the one where I grew up. but that I had forgotten in town. looking for somebody to ask for directions. don’t worry. he had told me on the phone. just ask somebody when you are there and they will show you the way...
Felice. always smiles. even when he is serious his face smiles. maybe because of the wrinkles around his eyes and his mouth. he is very proud of his work. very proud of himself. he lost his sight when he was about thirteen. maybe he would have become a lorry driver like his father and his brother. he became a sculptor instead. and makes a living from sculpture. which is not easy even for those who can see. he invites me to enter his church/studio. how many times as I entered a church I thought I wish I could live here. and one by one he made me touch his sculptures. he stripped me of my shape. and turned me into a soul behind its back. into the essence of myself. an invisible but resounding vibration. we wandered about the sculptures. in the half-light. my hands guided by his hands. between one story and another. my ears guided by his voice. he is a clever man. but above all he is self-confident. equipped with an inner strength that makes him move on. a strength made of passion. and of energy. he told me about his life. not about his disability. how he has moved on and still does. not about his efforts. but about his workshops in the Academies of Fine Arts throughout Italy. how he welcomes and helps other people with disabilities through art. he told me about his defiance of rules and structures that do not contemplate him. that increase his disability. like standing in front of the Veiled Christ in Naples without being allowed to touch it. if I cannot touch it, I cannot see it. and how he protested creating his own Veiled Christ. listening to the descriptions of the original work. and making it available for the hands thirsty for art. when Felice talks about sculpture he is filled with enthusiasm. as he explains his point of view. the world around him. and how he reproduces it. in the technical detail of the marble sculpture.
I went away. and came back. with my children and a friend. to work with him. underneath the shadow of a big tree that has grown behind the Chiesa dell’Arte. the five of us blindfolded or with closed eyes. we followed his voice. and his hands. we fumbled on the table for a piece of clay to add to our still shapeless portrait. we learnt how to look at each other using fingertips. even his ones. because my fingertips can’t see what his ones can. and the day just slipped away. the children laughed. but the most important thing is that my youngest started creating a marble sculpture. he took a chisel and a hammer. encouraged by a man who made him believe he could do whatever he wanted. who encouraged him to listen only to himself. and not to his older sisters. a man who told him that his voice is the only one he should listen to. the voice of his soul. my mother would say. he took him by the hand taking all the fears away. and filling him with certainty. in the darkness of a new dimension. he created the possible image. if you think it is right then it is. he said. you only have to want it. you only have to work hard. you only have to be able to look beyond. where the eyes cannot see but the heart can. faith can.
we learnt our face proportions. our nose and mouth shapes. but above all we learnt to love ourselves. to believe in ourselves. we learnt to listen carefully. to feel our body and the body of other people.
a man with disability? or a human being equipped with special powers?