felice“Vietato non toccare” is on a notice publicising a small exhibition of the work of sculptor, Felice Tagliaferri at the Malatestiana Library in Cesena, Italy.

‘It is forbidden NOT to touch’ is an unusual sign to attach to art works. Normally security personnel are close at hand to prevent any curious hands from exploring objects. Tagliaferri’s pieces are different because even he has never seen them.

He has been blind since the age of 14 and so for all his work, mainly in marble, he depends entirely on his hands to know what they look like.

He is present to enthusiastically explain his work to visitors. “Do you want to see the work the way I see it?” he asks. Yes, I reply. Should I close my eyes?, I wonder, but he says this isn’t necessary. It’s enough that you get the tactile experience.

Vita sotto le mani

He has modelled the shape of flames and clouds, the visual beauty of which we take for granted but never touch. Two busts of his wife embracing his son are particularly moving because we know that he ‘sees’ them only in his mind’s eye.

A more abstract piece is called Vita Sotto le Mani (literally ‘life under the hands’). This is a ball with a smooth outer surface and an opening on top into a rough inner core. It rests on a base but it wouldn’t take much to push it off. This delicate balance is deliberate, he says, because it represents how precarious life can be.

“The eyes are the windows to the soul”, wrote William Shakespeare and this small exhibition is a reminder that we can actually ‘see’ with all our senses.

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