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Think of Italy and you see visions of sunshine, sea, sartorial perfection and, of course, spaghetti. Or, if you're an art lover, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Canaletto, rapidly updated with images of works by Gaspare Manos and Clementina Crocco. And almost anything Italian is a perfect match for all that is Indian, from the warmth and drama of the music to the intense flavour and brilliant colour of the food and the passion and spirit of the people. So a show of Italian art in the Indian city of Mumbai only follows a kind of logic, right? Curator Caterina Corni certainly thought so, which is why she brought Made in Italy to the commercial capital. As she says, "I love Mumbai and I think that this city has an absorbing energy. "
Corni is presenting the work of three artists - Azelio Corni, Antonella Aprile and Giovanni Frangi. A graduate in Indology from the University of Milan, Corni is an art curator who specialises in modern and contemporary Indian art, and has organised several conferences on Indian art in Italy. "I was thinking about this show since a long time, " says Corni, in her delightfully accented English. "I am very interested to show Italian art in India and vice-versa. I am working with these artists from 2004 and I am following and promoting their works around the world. All of them have created the artworks specifically for this show. " And as she explains using a quote from Rabindranath Tagore in her curatorial note, "Images transcend languages' limits, embodying that sense of universality which poetry cannot offer. " She explains, "Images don't need any translation, neither any middle passage or filter;they are clear and go straight to everybody, as they speak a universal language. Nowadays, globalisation made this thought even more actual, either in its positive or negative meaning. Made in Italy doesn't underline the artist's geographical origins, but it recalls that sense of universality which is essential. "
Like much that is Italian, there is a stark simplicity to the works on display, though their implication and meaning is as mysterious as the lack of vibrant colour. Most pieces are in shades of black-white-grey, with the occasional lick of pastel peach or blue. According to Corni, "Aprile, Corni and Frangi prefer to use black and white, it has not a specific meaning. I can say that in Italy we have a strong tradition of this uncoloured painting. " One large work stands out for being not 'uncoloured'. It is brilliant red, with shades and shadows, suggestions of underlying pattern emerging with time and gaze, almost like an archeological site map slowly being unearthed. It is a favourite, Corni admits, "The artist is Azelio Corni, he made fabulous works on felt. He likes to experiment with various materials such as plastic, saari, metal, glass and now felt! The red one remembers something atavistic. Yes, he is attracted by the archeological field. The plastic strength of the sign is an essential element in Corni's work, a sign which cuts the canvas, the paper, the fabric and that sometimes becomes a chromatic mass sending to an ancestral universe. "
One work, a video-animation The Happening Beyond The Time by Aprile, tells of Lord Siva explaining quantum theory while performing his cosmic dance. "Siva embodies the dynamic and protean universe where matter can no longer be apart from its activity, as in quantum theory where subatomic particles aren't made by any 'essential matter', but they are dynamic lines turning one into another, " Corni says. "Even if we go through the matter, nature shows us that that there isn't an isolated and 'essential brick', but it shows itself as a net of relations between those different parts composing the whole cosmos."
But doing anything with Indian mythology is always risky, even for Indians. Did the artist understand sensitivities in doing this piece? "Antonella Aprile had started to work on the video animation before knowing about the show at Sakshi, " says Corni. "She was interested in the connection between Eastern religion and Western scientific thought. She is looking for how these two different worlds converge on the same point. " There is a charming naivete in that quest, a delightful lack of awareness of how politics can and does interrupt creative inspiration in the city that is purportedly secular and all-embracing.
A couple of the works seem to edge closer to nature, like a gentle walk through the woods after rain. Everything is merely suggested, nothing is fully defined. Frangi's work, Corni shows off, is all about exploring an underlying 'holy dimension'. "In images, there is always something infinite. "
Whether a show like this one will get the larger audience that it deserves is not clear, since the works defy categorisation and elude interpretation. But the delicate charm and subtle beauty of the art on display leaves behind a soft feeling of something timeless, something waiting to be known.
'Made in Italy' is on at the Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, till September 8
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