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Farnesina Collection, Where Art is Ambassador of Peace, Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange

Binny Yadav

No one could ever be sure if there ever was any prophecy of how and if the world would be hit by something as catastrophic as the Covid19 Pandemic or if we will have more such phenomenons, but premonitions of such fragility of the human race definitely have found manifestations through various mediums of art.

When Michelangelo Pistoletto, an Italian painter and object artist sculpted L’Etrusco in 1976, a life-size portrait of an Etruscan man holding up the mirror with raised hand, he was simply not capturing an ancient and egalitarian Etruscan civilization of Italy where the mirror was a strong symbol of superior class and affluence. ”The arm of the art piece raised in front of the mirror measures the distance left to humanity before the final catastrophe. The warning reminds us of the fragility of our planet, which a virus can bring to its knees and which man’s greed threatens to destroy,” explains Umberto Vattani, former Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy. The portrait today is part of the Grand Vision of Italy, the Farnesina collection which aims at representing Italy through contemporary art.

This and many such art pieces which represent the contemporary world and its ephemerality needed acknowledgement not because contemporary art has been taking over classic, Renaissance or Baroque era art in Italy but because it was important to understand the contemporary world through art and communicate through the language and demeanour of various forms of art.

This is the uniqueness attached to the Farnesina collection which is travelling to India after its lag in Tokyo and Singapore. The uniqueness is not only in the collection of art which represents contemporary artistry but also in how it is being used as a medium for diplomatic parlance and cultural exchange by Farnesina, the ministry of external affairs of Italy.

Travelling to India on the 75th Independence Year celebration, according to the Italian ambassador to India Vincenzo de Luca, the collection is not only an acknowledgement of 75 years of India-Italy relations but also symbolises how.

Photo Credit by Carlo Scialdone

“Italy has consistently been influenced by Indian art and culture.” Art has been building the narrative, “dynamism of art …..conveys messages evolving over time” and “ Italian art, since the Second World War kept moulding itself according to the historical and social context, contributing to its understanding and anticipating trends”, said ambassador de Luca in his inaugural message.

For the curator Achille Bonito Oliva, the collection synthesises the ability of art to be unlimited in its essence. “Art celebrates cohabitation and coexistence”, and reflects the politics of the times, “which gives way to artistic expression….in some way art cohabits with bureaucracy”. Farnesina collection, he says, on one hand, gives “aesthetics to politics” while also reflecting that “diplomacy is not secret but also open”. The collection thus carries with it a new narrative of “openness of diplomacy”, and that is what makes it a unique collection which also tends to build a dialogue through “cultural exchanges”.

72 art pieces out of the collection of 630 were meticulously chosen to reflect the very belief, in the words of Uberto Vattani, “God gave a system to freedom which is art”, which is why he says it became necessary to make the ministry of external affairs as the seat of the art as it has been “surrounded by secrecy” and was important for contemporary Italy to build a “new narrative”.

“It was in a way a cultural revolution”, maintains Mr Vattani, the man who solely has been instrumental in transforming the foreign affairs building of Italy, Farnesina, which stands today as a spokesperson for the “history of Italy”, and the only way to do this, ambassador Vattani says was  “by bringing art” in the building.

Art as a soft power of diplomacy!!

One year before the end of the twentieth century, the foreign ministry of Italy decided to revolutionize the overall image of the Ministry, so that it would become a symbol of the contemporary world. “We brought works by living artists into the atrium and halls of the Farnesina….We had symbolically reconnected the Farnesina to Republican Italy”, explains Mr Vattani about how the vision of the Grand Italian collection was conceptualized.

Photo Credit by Binny Yadav

There were obvious “surprises” and “bewilderments”, as twenty-five years ago awareness of contemporary art was not as widespread as it is today. “Yet Italian artists even in the twentieth century have found their way to the masterpieces. Starting from the audacity of Futurism, through the visions of Metaphysical art, they dialogue with Cubism and anticipated Dada and Surrealism”, explains Vattani.

Political message through art

Many of these contemporary artworks bore political messages, chosen for their inherence to the themes and content of different international situations. In 1989 Italian president Andreotti donated the monumental Disco Solare by Arnaldo Pomodoro to Mikhail Gorbachev on his visit to Italy, in recognition of his policy of de’tente between East and West. The sculpture today welcomes visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.

“ In 1998, overcoming infinite difficulties, we placed a grandiose Sfera by

Pomodoro in front of the UN headquarters in New York, thereby emphasizing the importance of Italy’s contribution to the United Nations and the success of the conference of the International Criminal Court in Rome”, tells Mr Vattani.

Art a representation of contemporary times

Since one of the objectives behind such a collection was to build a new narrative of Italy’s commitment to “peace, tolerance and listening”, some of these works effectively highlight the current challenges: problems of developing countries, the fight against hunger and poverty, migration, the search for collaboration in the Mediterranean and also the risk to the environment.

Photo Credit by Binny Yadav

Mirko Basaldeila’s La Granda Madre depicts the dramatic situation of many geographical areas. L’Etrusco, the man with raised arm depicts the risks deriving from climate change besides reflecting the fragility of the human race.

The objective of the collection in the words of its conceptualiser Uberto Vattani was to promote a new idea of Italy, a country which has a thriving heritage of classical, Renaissance and Baroque heritage while also having “great talents” of new artists which continue to reveal as, “Art, music, literature, theatre are a vital instrument of cultural diplomacy and as a tool has helped us tell the history of Italy”.

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