Art without borders
Italian artist Tarshito collaborates with folk cultures from across the globe
Contemporary creative practitioners often work at the intersection of art, crafts and design. It is not new for artists to work with artisans, sometimes to help the crafts expand into the realm of mainstream art, and, often, as a collaborative process in which unique works are created with the inputs of both.
For Tarshito, the collaborative process seeks creativity that combines the sensibilities of East and West. “My purpose is to find unity through love and compassion. My art is the reason I travel, and the art-making process for me is like taking a selfie, something that helps me see who I am," says Tarshito over a south Indian meal at Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, as he prepares to open his solo show, Tarshito Falls In Love With India. His practice involves a collaborative approach, combining folk and contemporary sensibilities. Travelling around the world to work with traditional craftsmen, he likes to immerse himself in the moment, and enjoy and embrace whatever it has to offer. “We must unify what we think, speak and do to live a complete life," he adds.
Tarshito first visited India in 1979. “I had successfully completed my degree in architecture and my parents gave me a gift by fully funding a trip to another country. I would have chosen just any country, but a friend insisted that it ought to be India," he adds. The journey to get to India itself was a phenomenal experience. He travelled by bus and ship, and occasionally by train, crossing Greece, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, before crossing into India from Pakistan. “In India, I visited several holy cities like Amritsar, Varanasi, Rishikesh, Vrindavan and Dharamsala. It was so refreshing and different from anything I experienced travelling through five countries," he says.
It marked the beginning of his journey to position materiality alongside spirituality. His six-month stay in India was enough for Tarshito to change the way he pursued his life and work. “I went back to Italy and focused on my career as an architect and a designer. I was deeply interested in bringing out the soul of the material I used. The soul of wood, for instance, was critical in the table or chair I designed," he says.
The philosophy of oneness and unity found its way to his art practice as well. He takes a project that he plans to work on with a community. Of the 24 communities he has worked with so far, 16 have been from India, including chitrakars from Bengal making patachitra and Dokra bronze cast sculptors. A series developed with Gond artists from Bhopal is on display at his ongoing show at the Arts of the Earth gallery in Hauz Khas Village, which is known for promoting art from tribal cultures. Each of the seven paintings displayed represents India’s seven holy rivers.
“The artists are free to make what they choose within the theme. When I first met the group, there was nothing in common between us. The moment I shared the concept of the project, the energies started to flow. They all had stories about rivers, folklore or experiences from travel," adds Tarshito. He improvises the work after the folk artists finish their part.
In this series, Tarshito added the world map, though nuanced with his philosophy of unity. Australia is shown next to France and Kenya, and India and Venezuela are shown as neighbours. “With my extensive travels and interactions with people from various countries, I feel we are all so similar, and the distances are only on maps. So, I bring the countries closer in my work," he explains. In one of the works, a river runs across the painting with animals and shells, in the intricate style of traditional Gond art.
The eighth work is a 10m-long panel that is a work in progress. Tarshito is developing this with artists from across the globe. It is a procession, which, he says, depicts his own life—a walk on the path to find love through art. A procession itself indicates movement, and also people joining in and dropping out as it progresses. “I have already completed this with artists from Mexico, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Peru. In the next few months, I have planned to visit Morocco and Korea to complete this work," says Tarshito.
All the works have the signatures of the collaborating artists and Tarshito himself. There are various ways he compensates the folk artists he works with. “Most often they like to get paid upfront. I do offer them a share of actual sales or even to keep an equal number of works produced," he explains. He works with them for reasons beyond commerce, and hopes to leave behind an experience for everyone he collaborates with.
Tarshito Falls In Love With India is on till 25 March at Arts of the Earth gallery, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi.