Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Meet the artist and sculptor: Corrado Meneguzzo

Some months ago I visited the house of an Italian artist and sculptor called Corrado Meneguzzo. It was an opportunity to look at some of his works and to talk to him about his art.

The above image shows one of Corrado's art installations. The art does not arise in a vacuum, it is molded and guided by the life-experiences and living-contexts of the artists. I love visiting artists in their homes and to listen to them talk about their works.

Visit to Corrado Meneguzzo

Corrado lives and works at the top of a hill in a relatively isolated area of a small alpine commune called Priabona, a few km from Schio in the north-east of Italy, where I live. The visit to Corrado was organised by a friend, Roberto, for a local cultural group. We were a group of about 15 persons. (In the image below, Corrado, wearing blue jeans and blue shirt, is in the centre)

When we reached his home, Corrado was waiting for us with an illustrator friend, Luca.  From his isolated and drenched-in-silence home-studio on the top of a verdant hill, we could see the houses and the church in the tiny commune of Priabona far below us. Except for an old abandoned church with a bell tower, there were no other buildings or people living nearby.

Corrado explained that archaeological objects from the neolithic and from the Lombard invasion periods (6-7th century CE) have been found in the area around his house. He said that this idea of living in area which is on a continuum of ancient human settlements for thousands of years, is very important to his sense of being an artist.

Corrado's artistic background

He explained, "I grew in a house in the valley below with my grandfather who used to make wooden objects. My step-father used to decorate churches. My uncle Giobatta brought artists to our town and I had been visiting his museum ever since I was young. All this sparked my interest in art. When I was seventeen, I took part in a collective exhibition in the Casabianca museum. I did a diploma in architecture focusing on old painting techniques. But studying art was more of a personal endeavor."

One of his first works as a sculptor-artist was to find and renovate an old house on the top of the hill, that was a crumbling ruin, and make his studio-home in it. He says that he did almost all the renovation by himself, one step at a time (Corrado's home in the image below).

Just outside his house there are displayed different old art installations including a few wooden sculptures and some chairs made of different materials including old truck tyres, mostly from 2005-06.

Corrado explained that in the 1990s he used to work more with stones. Then he shifted to cement. Around 2006-07 he did a lot of work with old tyres. Now he likes to work with wood. In between he also does paintings. He feels that each material has its own voice and it tells him what it wishes to communicate.

He took us to a short visit to some of his installations spread out in the open areas and grassy slopes around his house.

The Confessional

Corrado's home is located behind an old abandoned church with a bell-tower on a hillock rising behind it. From the hillock, you can look down on the other side of the hill in the valley below towards Malo and the road going towards Vicenza 25 km away.

He started the visit to his works by taking us up the hillock, behind the bell-tower. This brought us to an art installation called "the Confessional". Built in wood and painted in black, the confessional looks more like a pulpit. Personally, its design made me think of a guillotine where they could behead persons.

Corrado explained that as a child, his mother took him regularly to the Catholic church. He was a three years old child and was supposed to confess his sins to the priest. Since he was tiny, sitting at the confessional he could only see the legs of the priest sitting inside.

He didn't seem to have pleasant memories of those visits and through this installation made in 2011, evoked the feelings of dread and sadness that the confessionals represented for him. His religion related experiences seemed to play an important influence on his art.

Feeding trough for birds

It is an installation made from an old feeding trough that was used in the past for giving hay to the cows. Corrado had turned it in a standing position and then fixed a small red cup to the top, which holds water for the birds. It was an installation on the transformation of objects, that he had made some 10-11 years ago.


The concrete moulds of the old suitcases were made for a project called "Interpreting America" in 2011. These represented the emigrants who used to leave Europe with with their belongings closed in old suitcases, leaving their homes to search for a new and better life somewhere else. Today, the emigrants from Africa and from the different wars, are a new version of the age-old search for security and well-being.

The cement moulds of the suitcases were brought back to Corrado's home after the end of the exhibition, and were left out in the garden. With time, moss and grass has grown in those molds, giving an idea of decay and at the same time, bringing them to life.

The Womb Window

For me, this installation of a vaginal opening made in dark concrete and fitted with a red grill was the most provocative sculpture of Corrado. When I saw it, I thought that it symbolised the violence against the women and the horrible practice of female genital mutilation, still common in some communities/countries especially in Africa and Middle east. It is also prevalent among the Bohra community in India.

However, Corrado gave a completely different interpretation of this work. He said that it represented his mother. The red grill was supposed to be his window, behind which he used to stand as a child and look out at the world from the safety and the security of his mother's protection.

The Angel Chairs

Over the past couple of years, Corrado has been sculpting chairs, especially the "angel chairs" or the chairs with wings. He has been experimenting with different kinds of materials and techniques for making these chairs.

One of the chairs that he was working on, was placed in the veranda of his studio. It was huge and made with rough wood. It was shaped like a broken angel, a kind of Milo's Venus transformed into a chair. I really loved this sculpture.

Inside the studio, there were different chairs in wood, lacquered with a shining red paint, that he was completing for an exhibition to be held in Los Angles. He explained that making of each of these chairs took around 400 hours of work. These are part of his "Seat Art" project.

There was many other chair-sculptures in his studio including a more traditional looking wooden chair painted in red and with the sign of cross on its back, with a rosary wrapped on its back; and another made with wood and an old tyre.


The studio also had different paintings by Corrado. One of his old paintings had a woman dressed in black standing near a lake.

A lot of his paintings were about female genitals dripping blood. This brought back to my mind our discussion in his garden about the sculpture of the vagina with the red grill. Though he had explained that sculpture in more happy terms, I think that his art represents some unresolved issues with women and sexuality.

Another of his paintings was a nude self-portrait (click on the image below for a larger view).


If I had seen any one of his art works displayed in an art gallery or in a museum, it would have given me a certain idea about Corrado as an artist and as a person. Looking at his home and at the different works he has done over the past 20 years and listening to him talk about them, gave me a different kind of understanding about his art.

Of all his artistic works, the one which I would like to own, if I had sufficient space to display it properly, would be the "Broken angel" chair. I think that this choice represents my own preference for romantic and good-looking art. In terms of emotional impact, I think that my vote will go to the "Womb Window" or the "Suitcases", though I wouldn't like to own them, as I found them disturbing.

I had asked Corrado, which of his art works was the one that he felt closest to his heart. He had answered that probably it was the Confessional or perhaps the painting of the woman in black.

If you could choose only one of his art works, which one would you choose and why?


Monday, 20 November 2017

The spy who came in from the leprosarium

Ideally, spies are people whom you would never suspect. Thus, they mix in with the background, so that we stop noticing them. Or they become so prominent that we take them for granted. Yet another strategy is to associate them with a condition that evokes fear, so that the spy-catchers do not wish to get close to them.

Ben Montgomery's book "The Leper spy" is about a person who was able to become a spy because she carried the signs of leprosy on her body. This post is about Montgomery's book, as well as about another story from Italy during the second World War, where leprosy had played an important role in saving many lives.

Ben Montgomery's book "The Leper Spy"

The book "The leper spy: The story of an unlikely hero of World War II" is the story of a woman called Josephine "Joey" Guerrero from Manila, who was diagnosed with leprosy, some months before Japan attacked and occupied Philippines. Joey was married to a doctor and had just delivered a daughter.

Joey decided to volunteer and help the American prisoners of war and resistance-fighters in Manila. Using the fear of leprosy among the Japanese soldiers, who did not want to go near her, she could visit different parts of the city and collect information about their military structures and plans, and carry them to the Americans.

After the surrender of Japanese forces and the end of the war, Joey found herself in a leprosarium outside the city, where the post-war destruction and lack of resources had a huge negative impact. Joey started writing letters to friends to ask for help. Stories of her work as a spy for the American forces helped to bring her to the US, where she could receive treatment for leprosy with the latest medicines of that time, such as Promin and Dapsone.

Montgomery is an able writer, bringing together the stories of different persons involved in the Second World War in the Pacific region and in Philippines, as well as the stories about the leprosy world in Carville (USA). It is an interesting read and helps to understand the history of Philippines and the early years of development of Carville.

However, while reading the book, I had an impression as if Joey was constantly hiding behind a mask. I could not get a feel about her as a person. In the first half of the book, this was because information about her is very limited. In the second half of the book, the information comes mostly from her official letters and writings. At the end of the book, for me Joey remained a shadowy figure.

During the 1970s, Joey had decided to move away from the limelight, away from being hailed as a heroine and away from being an activist fighting for a better understanding about leprosy. There is little information about the last 25 years of her life, till her death in 1996. The book informs that in this period, she had studied to become a sociologist and was involved in humanitarian work in Latin America and Africa.

However, if we do not look at the book primarily as Joey's life story, it is much more interesting in the way it tells us about the second World War in Philippines and the issues surrounding leprosy in the US in the post second world-war period.

A Genoa leprosarium for helping the Jews

There is another Second World War story, where the fear of leprosy played a role in saving people's lives. This story was shared by Dr Barabino, who works in the leprosy department in the San Martino hospital of Genoa in Italy.

San Martino hospital was started as a leprosy home in the 13th century. Over time, it became a general hospital and expanded. Now it is a big university hospital. During the 20th century, leprosy slowly started declining in Italy. At present, there are only 6-10 new cases of leprosy every year in Italy, and almost all of them are immigrants. This is similar to the situation in most other countries of Europe.

During the second World War, Mussolini in Italy was an ally of Hitler's Germany. Though Italy had promulgated anti-Jew laws in 1938, their deportations to the concentration camps started in 1943, when the German forces entered Italy and took over the command of the war. Around 20% of the 40,000 Jewish persons living in Italy at that time were deported to the concentration camps, where almost 90% of them died. During that period an Italian ex-pilot called Massimo Teglio (left) played an important role in saving many Jewish lives in Genoa.

On 2 November 1943, German soldiers attacked the office of Jewish community centre in Genoa and took away the documents with the list of names and addresses of Jews living in the city. In the following days and months, they started arresting persons and deporting them to the concentration camps. Massimo Teglio created a clandestine organisation called Delasem to save the Jews from the Nazis, to provide them with false identity papers and to help them to escape. A collaborator of Teglio called Lastrina was caught and killed. During this period, the leprosy hospital of San Martino was used as one of the hiding places for the Jews, as the soldiers of the German SS were afraid to go inside because of the fear of catching the disease.

The image below shows one of the old houses used by persons affected with leprosy in San Martino hospital.

The fear of leprosy is not something belonging only to the past. Today the disease is easily curable but still most persons do not know about it and continue to be afraid of it. I had another experience of this fear in 2010 in Rome, during the ceremony of conferring sainthood on Fr Damien, who had died in Kaluapapa (Hawai) while serving persons affected with leprosy.

For the ceremony many representatives of persons affected with leprosy had come to Rome. Italian organisation AIFO had made arrangements for these delegates to visit the President of Italy and I was part of this group. Normally, all visitors entering the President's house need to pass through a strict security check-up. However, when we went inside, the security staff stood back and did not come near us.

People who have had leprosy do not like the word "leper" as they feel that it is full of negative connotations and creates a stereotypical image of persons. They ask to not to use this word and instead say "persons affected with leprosy". However, in Ben Montgomery's book the word "leper" is used frequently and not just in its title.

Through Twitter, I asked Ben regarding the use of this word in his book. He answered: "Was hoping that using the term sparingly and within proper historical context would mitigate the negative connotation. Hansen's as a descriptor is still relatively foreign, and was almost unheard of during most of the period the book covers."


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Legends and stories of Orchha

Orchha is a tiny town in Madhya Pradesh (India), known for its beautiful palaces, temples and cenotaphs of the Bundela Kings from 16th and 17th centuries. It is also linked to many popular legends and stories that spice its history, and are sung in the local ballads and folk-songs.

Praveen Rai, Wall painting, Laxmi temple, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The image above is of a wall-painting showing Praveen Rai, part of one such legends. This post is about four legends related to medieval Orchha. You can read more about Orchha and the Bundelkhand region of India in my other posts.

Oral cultures of India

When India became independent in 1947, 88% of its population could not read or write. We do not have similar data for the past, but probably for the majority of Indians, oral traditions always had a significant importance. Though today the literacy levels have improved, oral traditions conserved through sacred texts, ballads and folk-songs, continue to play an important cultural role in the popular transmission of history, especially in smaller towns and villages.

Myths and legends are usually understood as old stories about gods and supra-natural events. However, myth-building is an on-going process and through our oral traditions, even the recent events of our history can become part of myths. Indic ideas about cyclical nature of time, karma and reincarnation influence its popular culture, in which history and myths are both equally important and freely intermixed.

Different folk-art forms and rites during social events, from marriages to celebration of festivals, keep alive these legends in the communities. These include overarching stories, especially about the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, that are common across different states and languages of India, as well as, more regional or local stories, such as the legends and stories of Bundelkhand and Orchha.

Folk and oral traditions, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

For example, in the Bundelkhand region, the ballads and nautanki-theater about the 12th century story of the brave warrior-brothers Alha and Udal continue to be very popular. This post is about legends specifically linked to the kingdom of Orchha in Bundelkhand.

Historical background of Orchha

In the beginning of  the 16th century, Bundela king Rudra Pratap had his capital in Gadhkundar. As he won new territories, to better control his expanded kingdom he decided to build a new capital at Orchha, 52 km to the south of Garhkundar. For more than a hundred years, the descendants of Rudra Pratap ruled from Orchha. During later parts of 17th century, their influence gradually waned, though they continued to live in Orchha till late 18th century.

Parveen Rai wall-painting, Laxmi temple, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

This post looks at four legends linked to Orchha - queen Ganesh Kunwar's desire for a Rama temple; the love story of the courtesan Praveen Rai and the king Indrajit Singh; the legend of Jujhar Singh, and his brother Hardaul; and, the legend of the Muslim pir Sundar Shah.

Queen Ganesh Kunwar and the statue of Lord Rama

Madhukar Shah ruled Bundelkhand for 38 years, from 1554 to 1592. Ganesh Kunwar was his queen. The king was a follower of Krishna, while the queen was from Ayodhaya and a follower of Rama. This was the time when Gosain Tulsidas had written his Ram Charit Manas and had popularized the public celebrations of Ramlila during Dushhera festival.

Ganesh Kunwar wanted a Rama temple in Orchha and thus, Madhukar Shah started building the Chatturbhuj temple. The queen herself went to Ayodhaya to get the Rama statue for this temple. At that time, she dreamed that once outside Ayodhaya, the statue will get stuck wherever it will be put down and then it can not be shifted. So the queen took care to never place the staute on the ground during her journey back to Orchha. However, when the queen reached home, the Chatturbhuj temple was still incomplete and thus, it was decided to keep the statue in her palace. Later, when the temple was completed, they found that the statue had become stuck in the palace and it could not be moved from its place. Thus, her palace had to be converted into a temple. The image below shows Chatturbhuj temple and the queen's palace (yellow) converted into a temple, seen from the Orchha fort.

Chatturbhuj and Ram Raja temples, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

There are many variations of this legend. For example, in one story, Ganesh Kunwar was doing a tapasya along the banks of Sarayu river in Ayodhaya. After long prayers, when lord Rama did not appear, she jumped in the river, threatening to kill herself. There, in the water, Rama appeared to her, brought her to the river bank and told her to build the temple in Orchha.

These stories serve to reinforce the beliefs in superhuman godly powers in the Rama statue and strengthen the sanctity of Ram Raja temple of Orchha, which is an important pilgrimage place in Bundelkhand.

Historical background: The rational explanation behind the story could have been a war between emperor Akbar and Madhukar Shah, so that Chatturbhuj temple was left incomplete. Some historians believe that the temple was completed during the reign of his third son, Bir Singh 15-20 years later, by which time the queen's old palace had already been converted into the Rama temple.

The wall paintings in Raja Mahal inside the Orchha fort, built by Madhukar Shah, like the one shown in the image below, are mostly about Krishna, supporting the idea that he was a Krishna-devotee.

Krishna wall-painting, Raja ka Mahal, Fort, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

On the other hand, the wall paintings inside the Laxmi temple built under Bir Singh, have scenes about both, Rama and Krishna, showing that by his time, the cults of both the gods had become popular in Orchha. The image below shows one such wall-painting panel where on the left an episode of Ramayana is depicted while on the right, there is Krishna.

Rama & Krishna wall-paintings, Laxmi temple, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The beautiful courtesan Parveen Rai's love story

The second legend about Orchha is linked to king Indrajit Singh and his favourite court poet and dancer, Praveen Rai. Emperor Akbar heard about the beauty and singing skills of Praveen and asked Indrajit to send her to Agra to the royal court. Indrajit was in love with Praveen and did not want to leave her, but she convinced him to send her to the emperor. Struck by her strong love for Indrajit, Akbar gave her gifts and sent her back to Orchha.

Parveen Rai wall painting, Laxmi temple, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil DeepakThe story of Indrajit, Praveen Rai and Akbar was written down by the Orchha poet Keshav Das in his book "Kavipriya".

Hindi author Maitreyee Pushpa had also written about this legend. According to her story, Praveen's original name was Savitri and she was the daughter of a courtesan Kanchana from Gwalior, who was invited to Orchha by the king Madhukar Shah. The king fell in love with Kanchana and asked her to stay in Orchha. One of the ghats on Orchha river is dedicated to Kanchana.

Savitri was a good dancer and was given the title of Praveen Rai. She shared the love for poetry with king Indrajit and the royal poet Keshav Das.

Another story about Praveen is that she was the beautiful daughter of a blacksmith. When Indrajit saw her, he was smitten and brought her to his palace. Since she belonged to a "lower caste", they did not have a proper wedding. With the help of Keshav Das, she learned poetry, studied dance and became good at both. She wrote the "Ramkaleva" of Ramchandrika.

Similarly, there are stories regarding Akbar's curiosity about her. Indrajit's cousin Pahad Singh had told Akbar about Praveen and suggested that such a beautiful and good dancer should belong to the emperor's court. Pahad Singh wanted the throne of Orchha and hoped that the love-lorn Indrajit will die without Praveen.

Indrajit refused to send Praveen to the emperor and an angry Akbar asked him to pay a huge fine. Praveen convinced Indrajit to let her go. He was disappointed, thinking that his beloved was greedy and wanted to be the concubine of the emperor.

In Kavipriya, Keshav Das wrote that in Akbar's court Praveen was asked to sing. She sang about being a daughter of Orchha and about her love for Indrajit. Then she said: "Vinati rai praveen ki suniye chatur sujan, juthi patar bhakhat hai bari, vayas, svan" (O wise and good man, listen to this request from Praveen Rai. Left over food is eaten only by low-castes, crows and dogs). Thus she called herself "left-over food", implying her relationship with Indrajit and thus being unfit for the emperor. The emperor, ashamed by her words, gifted her money, pearls and jewels, and sent her back to Orchha.

Yet another legend says that after coming back from Agra, Indrajit wanted to marry Praveen but his family did not allow him. Frustrated, Parveen immolated herself and Indrajit committed suicide.

The historical Background: The fort of Orchha includes Praveen Rai palace, also known as Anand Mahal. It was built in the 16th century. Indrajit Singh was the younger son of Madhukar Shah, who ruled Orchha during the final years of the 16th century.

Parveen Rai palace, Fort, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Some of the wall paintings in Laxmi temple, built under Bir Singh in the early 17th century show Praveen Rai. Poet Keshav Das lived during the last years of Madhukar Shah, during the reign of Indrajit Singh and during early years of Bir Singh. Thus the events linked with the legends of Praveen Rai and Indrajit had probably occurred around the end of 16th century.

Story of King Jujhar Singh and his brother Hardaul

There is also the story of Jujhar Singh, his wife Champawati, his younger brother Hardaul and their sister Kunjawati. The popular legend says that Jujhar had forced his wife Champawati to poison and kill Hardaul because he had suspected an illicit affair between the two.

Jujhar Singh was the eldest son of Bir Singh while Hardaul was the youngest. Since Hardaul's mother had died when he was young, his elder sister-in-law Champawati had raised him. In 1627, when Bir Singh died and Jujhar Singh became the king, 19 year old Hardaul became his Dewan. One year later, in 1628, Hardaul was married to Himachal Kunwari and in 1630 his son Vijay Singh was born.

In 1931, Hardaul and some of his soldiers died after eating the Dushhera feast in Orchha. It is said that Jujhar told his wife that she was having an affair with his brother and asked her to prove her faithfulness by giving poison to Hardaul. The legend also says that Hardaul loved his sister-in-law, because he thought of her as his mother, and he knowingly took the poison from her.

People of Orchha, indignant about the killing of Hardaul, built a shrine to him. This story is a common theme in the folk songs and Nautanki-theater in Orchha.

Hardaul statue, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Another related legend is about Hardaul and his sister Kunjawati. When Hardaul died, his sister took his body to Datia for cremation. A temple was created at this site. In 1715, a pond was also built in Datia near this temple, which is called "Lalla ka Talab".

It is said that Hardaul was very close to Kunjawati. According to this legend, some time after Hardaul's death, it was the time for the marriage of Kunjawati's daughter. During the marriage, when the time came for the rite where the bride's mama (mother's brother) offers bhat (rice) to the bride, everybody was astonished to see Hardaul, whose ghost had come to offer rice to his niece. This legend is still kept alive in Bundelkhand marriage ceremonies, in the rite of giving "Hardaul ka bhat" to the brides.

Historical events linked with Hardaul's legend: In 1631, an enemy of Mughal empire called Khanjahan Lodhi, fleeing from Shahjahan's army, passed through Orchha. He was Hardaul's friend and thus, Hardaul did not try to stop him. This earned the ire of Shahjahan who blamed Jujhar Singh and forced him to send his son Vikramjit to go after Lodhi and kill him. 200 Bundela soldiers had died in this war. Jujhar Singh blamed Hardaul for creating this problem.

Entrance, Hardaul shrine, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Hardaul was a very popular military commander. He had created a personal group of warriors who listened to him. Thus, it is possible that Jujhar got him killed because he was angry with him or perhaps, he was insecure about him.

Many Bundelkhand persons do not like the version of this legend, where Jujhar suspects an illicit relationship between his wife and his brother. They blame Vincent Smith, the British collector of Hamirpur in 1875, for not having understood the real story and for having created this legend about the illicit love story.

The legend of Pir Sundar Shah

There is another legend linked with the royals of Orchha but I could not find much information about it.

According to this legend, one of the sons of Jujhar Singh, prince Dhurbhajan, had fallen in love with a Muslim girl. To marry her, he had converted to Islam and taken the name of Sundar Shah. They had lived in the building known as Sundar Mahal, built on the top of a hillock near the Laxmi temple. Some people say that the girl he loved was princess Mehrunnissa, the daughter of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

Another story says that Sundar Shah was the love child of king Indrajit singh and princess Mehrunissa, daughter of Aurangzeb.

In his old age, Sundar became famous as a Pir, a local saint and thus, even today the Sundar Mahal is visited by people wishing to pray at his tomb.

Tomb of Pir Sundar Shah, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Historical background: According to the history books, emperor Aurangzeb had 4 daughters - Zebunnissa, Zeenatunnissa, Badrunnissa and the youngest, Mehrunnissa, who had married Izad Baksh, son of Shahzada Murad Baksh, in 1672 and had died in Delhi in 1706.

Ruins of Sundar Mahal, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

On the other hand Jujhar Singh had died in 1636 and in 1641, his brother Pahad Singh was placed on the Orchha throne by the Mughals. Aurangzeb became the emperor many years later in 1658. Thus, it seems unlikely that Jujhar Singh had a son who was young enough to marry princess Mehrunnissa. However, this does not mean that the legend had no historical basis. It is possible that one of the sons of Jujhar Singh had indeed married a Muslim girl and taken the name of Sundar Shah, though his wife was not the daughter of emperor Aurangzeb.

Later, two sufi saints, Syed pir and Zahar pir also lived here and their shrines were built inside. At present, it is seen as a religious place for the followers of the different pirs.

The legends of Orchha are part of oral-history traditions that are still alive and popular among the people. For example, if you search for "Hardaul ka bhat" on Youtube, you can find many versions of the ballads and nautanki performances linked to this story.

Folk and oral traditions of  India - Images by Sunil Deepak

These legends have kernels of history embedded in them around which myths have been build up. For some parts of the legends, there are material proofs like the Ram Raja temple which is not built like a temple and is clearly an old palace building with fortress like walls. Other parts of the legends, such as the story of "Hardaul ka bhat" have very strong emotional echoes in the community traditions and are a matter of people's beliefs.

Local persons have always experimented with their legends, adding embellishments and interlinking stories to them. Thus the legends take different forms and have many local variations.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The graphic art collection of the Casabianca Museum

Casabianca is a small art museum in a tiny little town called Malo (VI) in the north-east of Italy. It is a testimonial to the artistic passion and the vision of an Italian art-collector called Giobatta Meneguzzo. The museum presents his collection of contemporary drawings, graphic-art and art-prints.

Meeting Giobatta Meneguzzo

I live in Schio (VI), a tiny town in the foothills of Alps mountains in the north-east of Italy. Malo is a few kilometres away from our home. Some months ago, our local cultural association organised a "Meet an artist" programme, under which we were supposed to visit the house of a local sculptor and talk to him about his art.

My friend Roberto came to pick me up and informed me that on the way, we will make a brief stop to pick up Giobatta, who is the artist's uncle. That was my introduction to the 89 years old Giobatta and to his collection of contemporary graphic art housed in Casabianca (literally "White house") museum in Malo.

Giobatta was kind enough to take me around his museum. Later, as we travelled to his nephew's house, we talked a little. This post is based on that meeting. It provides an introduction to the Casabianca museum and to Giobatta.

Brief introduction about Geobatta

Geobatta was born in 1928 in Priabona, a small fraction of Malo. He studied to become a geometra, someone who does surveys of terrains and projects civil buildings. His introduction to the world of graphic arts came through art books and art magazines such as the works of Skira and a magazine called "Domus". Fascinated by art, he started collecting graphic art and art prints in the 1960s and continued till 1990s.

The Casabianca museum was established in 1978. It is situated in a 400 years old building belonging to the Morandi Bonacossi family. Built around 1668, it is a compact solid looking building that used to be the "Montecio farming estate". At the same time, it has an aristocratic touch as shown by the high vaults, big halls and well made solid pillars.

Casabianca Art Collection

The graphic art and prints collected by Giobatta are very different from the usual art collections in museums - most of them are small in size, many of them apparently very simple and some of them can be defined as ordinary or even ugly. Most of the time, people collecting art focus on big art works with a strong good-looking visual impact. People collecting art as a financial investment go for famous artists. Museums do not have works of relatively lesser-known artists.

Giobatta's approach was different - he wanted to understand the artistic expression through his own appreciation of art. He looked for art which touched him instead of collecting famous works of famous artists. This means that looking at the art displayed in Casabianca museum, you can have a very personal and subjective view of art, without being influenced by the words of well-known art critics and hypes created by auction houses.

Even if you have been to different art museums around the world, Casabianca museum will surprise you. Most museums highlight the important art works of their collection, especially those of the famous artists. Casabianca is different - the art works are put in an apparently random way without highlighting those of the famous artists. The museum seems to tell you that you should not wait for someone else to tell you what is beautiful or what is important - look at the art through your own eyes and see which art and artists speak to your heart. Discover your personal view of significant art.

Not knowing which art works were by famous or important artists, was disorienting when I went around the Casabianca museum accompanied by Giobatta. The art works displayed here represent most of the important art movements from 1960s to 1990s including pop-art, kinetic-art, neo-realism, conceptual art, American graffiti, anachronism movement, minimal art and body art. Overall there are 1200 art-works of 700 artists exhibited in the museum.

Fred Licht, the curator of Peggy Guggenheim museum wrote about the art works displayed in Casabianca museum in 1992: "You can enter into a dialogue with artists like Beuys or Serra or Manzoni, more directly and more efficiently by looking at their small sized works, instead of their giant operas which overwhelm the observer and delay or complicate the direct communication with the artist ..."

The museum is popular with school children who come here to look at art and to discuss the different art movements and styles that have influenced visual arts and specially graphic-arts during the second half of 20th century.

It was a hurried visit for me, as we had to go for our group visit to the house of another artist. Still, the unorthodox approach chosen by Giobatta piqued my interest and I am hoping to go back there to look properly at the art works.


Casabianca museum is a private art collection. It focuses on graphic art of second half of the 20th century. I am sure that today it is possible to see many examples of the graphic-art through internet. Still looking directly at the art works instead of admiring them as images is a completely different experience.

It was a hurried visit to the Casabianca museum on that day. However, even in that short visit, I was intrigued by the ideas of Giobatta and his art collection.

When we admire art we focus on the artists and their artistic expressions. People discovering artists and running art galleries is another group of people that has received some attention. However, who are the persons who collect art and why do they do it? Meeting Giobatta raised this question in my mind.

I am planning to go back to Casabianca and look at its exhibits with a little bit more time. If you are visiting this part of north-east Italy around Vicenza and its province, perhaps you will also like to visit this unique museum.

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