Vita Nova is the title of the poems by Dante, composed in honour of his lover and muse, that shaped the history of poetry in Italy and worldwide. Curated and conceived by Myna Mukherjee and Davide Quadrio, the poetic exhibition explores transformations, connections and departures in contemporary art and craft between India and Italy.
“Dante is very well known, initially, for other bodies of work. The idea behind choosing Vita Nova was that I really wanted to talk about Italy and India and about transformation. You can’t really talk about the new in either of the countries without talking about the old. The translation of vita nova is actually new life, and it was really meaningful to me, especially when you are thinking about histories of art-making in both India and Italy explains Mukherjee.
‘Vita Nova’ is essentially a touring two-city exhibition that opened in Jaipur back in early March, before coming to Delhi towards the end of April as a collateral exhibition to the India Art Fair 2022. “In 2021, it was the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, and we had a series of activities lined up commemorating the great poet’s life and work. The purpose of ‘Vita Nova’ was to bring together artists from Italy and India for an exhibition revolving around Dante’s literature for the India Art Fair. So, that’s how this exhibition came into being”, reveals Dr Andrea Baldi, Director, Italian Cultural Centre.
Vincenzo de Luca, Ambassador of Italy to India expressed his pleasure in hosting the exhibition at the cultural centre. “We have some new event almost every week. Last time, we had a wonderful presentation on architecture, and today, we have this unique exhibition inspired by the works of Dante. We have already presented this festival in Jaipur as a parallel event to the Jaipur Literature Festival 2022, and now, we have the pleasure of bringing it to Delhi”,he said.
The curation called upon six artists from India and Italy to be challenged by Dante’s extraordinary body of work. Andrea Anastasio, who has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in various Italian and international museums; Francesco Simeti, who is known for his site-specific installations, which aesthetically present enchanting scenes that reveal a more complex subtext upon closer inspection; Marta Roberti, the winner of public call Cantica of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Ministry of Culture of Italy for 2020; Puneet Kaushik, who is best known for his investigations into gender and identity through canvases, drawings on paper, mixed media and monumental installations; Raghava KK, whose work traverses traditional forms of painting, installation and performance, while his practice embraces new media to express post-human contemporary realities; and Shilo Shiv Suleman, an award-winning Indian artist whose work lives and breathes at the intersection of magical realism, art, technology and social justice.
The artists blur several distinctions as they work with a range of ‘handmade’ techniques from woodcuts, block prints, embroidery, tapestry, metal forging, blue pottery, miniatures, bidri, ceramics, clay and even cardboard making.
“There is so much about the hybrid, not just in a literary sense but also in terms of the times that we are living in. And there are so many resonances in both cultures. So, I thought that it would be best explored by something that’s as vocal as art and craft. I had already curated Marta (Roberti) in her last exhibition ‘Visions in the Making’. When I met her for ‘Vita Nova,’ I simply told her to make it her own. Even when she came last time, she had looked at how I worked with the Indian artists and approached the art-making practices”, reveals Mukherjee.
‘Vita Nova’ is an invitation to enter a unique realm which brings together mystery and metaphor, nature and humanity, mythology and memory, the arcane and the magical, transformation and preservation, and ultimately, the manifestation of something new. “Together, the six artists create a hothouse of new works that expose the conjunctions and disjunctions inherent in these contemporary hybridized artworks. They generate questions about the role of craft in their evolutionary shift to the ‘dematerialized’ and conceptual, while retaining their historical and cultural significance”, explains Mukherjee.
Andrea Anastasio describes ‘Vita Nova’ as an important endeavour to explore contemporary ways of approaching centuries-old traditions associated with art and craft aimed at generating new ways of creating narratives. “‘Vita Nova,’ to me, is being in the present. After the pandemic, the relevant thing is realizing how deeply we are all interconnected and how life demands a constant tuning into the ever changing dimension that we call reality. Art processes can help us rely on different ways of engaging with reality while broadening the space of encounters, opening it to the vast dimension of diversities. Every single action that is rooted into a subtler awareness of the moment is ‘Vita Nova’. Then the craftsman, the artist, the viewer are different moments of the same process: a participatory act of vital dialogue. Making things then can embrace the enigma of our condition, while pushing us to embrace the vulnerability that makes us human,” explains Andrea.
For Raghava KK, Dante is the greatest lover. “Dante had to go through hell to find pure love. And I found that to be a fascinating metaphor. Italians and Indians are full of love and emotions, full of gestures, and full of life. And frankly there is no better topic than Dante’s ‘Vita Nova’. In this series, I wanted to bring together two worlds of painting to try and meld them together. The art of craftsmanship is dying in India and I wanted to bring it back with the use of technology in this new world through play. The works bring together generations of craftsmanship and new technology, the materiality of different mediums and a new encounter,” reveals Raghava.
Mukherjee says, “Encompassing tapestries, carpets, sculptures, miniatures, textiles & artisanal objects, moving from magic realism to metaphors of political protests, ‘Vita Nova’ is an eclectic immersion into the conceptual craft futures, promoting new ways of thinking about the role of craft in contemporary art and the significance of the ‘handmade’ within conceptual art making practices.”
According to the her, the exhibition allows for playful subversion and curatorial reflection on craft, within the conditions of extreme material and economic disparity. “It also offers a renewed focus on labour and materiality in contemporary art and practice as well as the political dimensions of craftivism, neoliberalism, and power. There is a conscious effort toward urban renewal and sustainability, ecology, the use of science & technology, and craft’s connections to gender, race & cultural identity across continents”, states Mukherjee.
The exhibition will be open to the public till 31 May.
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Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic