“There is a country where men condemn women to the punishments of hell; a country where women, mostly very young, are disfigured with sulphuric acid” – thus writes Renata Pisu in her documented report on Bangladesh; women forced to live in hiding, segregated, separated from the rest of society. “Acidified”, Pisu calls them: they have been struck when they were girls, fourteen or fifteen, almost children. Their guilt? Refusing to keep a marriage promise made by their parents. In any case victims without any blame for circumstances linked to a relationship with a man, attracted by their beauty and youth, and possibly rejected. So it happens that sulphuric acid is thrown on their beautiful faces, but in more serious cases, if that is possible, on the whole body.
Thus devastated, they become horrible figures, unrecognizable monsters; so their beauty and youth is irreparably destroyed. But there is more; with this cruel and inhuman gesture their life disintegrates: from this moment it becomes a life sentence, endless prison.
It is anguishing to think that the victims, feeling repugnant, mature awareness of their deformity with a sense of guilt; they live segregated from their families, they feel unacceptable, branded by a sentence that they serve by shutting themselves up in a painful silence. Deeply humiliated as they are, it even becomes difficult to approach them, to let them vent their feelings, give themselves up to weeping and tell their miserable and poignant history. Many go dumb after the shock and it is almost impossible to gain their trust.
Yet another tragedy of humanity, faced with which Arrigo has felt overwhelmed, and he has felt the pressing need for a denunciation, for what passion, indignation, a painter’s emotion, the “redemption” that he offers these tortured effigies through the touched celebration of the painting can be worth in this cynical world.
Certainly, however, a deep connection of denunciation exists between the overwhelming vision of the world that Arrigo enacts with as much impetuous energy and the blind and distant violence – distant from our lives but not from our hearts – that strikes so inhumanly.
Arrigo is as if possessed by an obsession, and that is to say succeeding in expressing, giving substance and semblance to blind and foolish brutality that does not arise from aggression by a beast but from the demoniac depths of man.
Thus today the portrait is a form that no longer lends itself to immortalizing the features and vanity of a man of success, but to acting as a mirror and a cry (later than and well beyond Munch), a cry addressed to the universality of humankind, a cry of desperation and admonishment. After Bacon, who staged the deformed torment of the human mind, Arrigo endeavours to trace out a confine between humanity still worthy of this name and humanity not worthy of it. It is not true that man is fiercer than beasts: in some cases he is, but to his badness, through the dialectics and movements of colour, there is opposed a figuration of the disfigured that appeals to the worthiest depths of the human mind.
The pathos of tragedy is amplified in a representation that, going beyond the pitiful models, in the indignant imagination amplifies the perverse instincts, and it is the latter that Arrigo really portrays, in a portrait that bursts forth, recognizing itself in the monstrosities that it has provoked.
An excited colour, violent, as if out of control, flows on the canvas in so many rivulets as if they gushed forth from as many wounds. An unbridled, emotional and unnatural colour: enamelled blues, blacks that creep into the folds of the faces turning the complexion into fear-arousing masks. Then the looks, the gazes of these characters – they make one shiver, sometimes rolled upward, at times half shut, at times filtered through grotesque lenses, and send forth lights and sinister gleams.
With this exhibition Arrigo also presents many female portraits and figures in the round that instead recall, or evoke, the powerful beauty of these young women in the memory of their cruel history.
Fortunately there is an ongoing policy of support for these victims, above all medical support that allows these women partly to reconstruct their destroyed faces. But alongside these worthy and effective initiatives, exhibitions like the one Arrigo is putting on with ardent participation are also important for drawing attention to this tragedy.
An Expressionism taken to excess
A Sicilian artist with a great temperament, he paints using full-bodied and dense material that he impresses on the canvas with vigorous and almost brutal brushstrokes.
His most evident interest seems to be in the portrait, his own as well as those of characters that have particularly struck him: his figures are pitiless masks graven in colour with violent and dark tones that create hallucinatory, dripping and distorted images.
Arrigo harks back to expressionism taken to excess where the earthy and reddish colours open up into light tones that puncture the faces, like wounds, conferring on them a bewildered light. Hair and bristly and ruffled beards like thorns or blind eyes that puncture the earthy faces, sneers that open up red and bloody mouths, reticules of wrinkles that pitilessly mark the physiognomies, enact sorrowing humanity defaced by suffering.
Arrigo looks at and observes his characters with the eyes of the heart and feeling.
His is a touched eye that intends to denounce wrongs and acts of violence that these poor icons of old men or children have suffered. The fire of an impassioned and powerful feeling has turned them into aching masks.
This impression is also confirmed by the temperament of the author, kind, good, sensitive, generous and passionately tied to his Sicily: the land where he was born and lives.