‘SAMA’: Discovering the artistic parallels of India and Italy

Directed by filmmaker Onir, the Indo-Italian documentary “SAMA” explores the long history of classical traditions in both countries and their relevance to contemporary styles.

The visual arts are not always the easiest subject to shoot a film. And Onir – known for works such as the National Award-winning anthology, I am – never tried anything like this before. But last year the 52-year-old traveled across India (hard as it was to do in the middle of a pandemic), to shoot SAMA: Symbols and Gestures in Contemporary Art from Italy and IndiaVol 1, an Indo-Italian documentary.

Filmmaker Onir

“It’s not a technical documentary, but a journey of experiencing and understanding the long history of art in the context of nature, culture, tradition,” says Onir, who filmed it. scripted with Italian director Allesandra Galleta. “For me, the beauty is finding threads that are diverse yet have a commonality because that’s what humanity is all about.” It’s like poetry, he adds, “where you use different languages ​​to convey the same emotion. You see the nature, tradition, patterns, shapes and colors of, say, Kashmir resonate [with those] in Gujarat, while being different. It changed the way I look at form and design, and it will affect the way I shoot movies.

Connect conversations

Sama means “similar” in Sanskrit and Latin, making it an apt title for the film and the intent behind it. Led by cultural producers and curators Myna Mukherjee and Davide Quadrio, the film began as a deeper investigation into sensibilities that were first tackled by the duo during their 2021 exhibition at Artissima. “I was already collaborating with Davide and it made sense to look at India and Italy as they are at two ends of an artistic ‘path’ between Asia and Europe,” says Mukherjee. “The artists we interviewed are in constant conversation with the very new and the very old, and both countries have a long history of aesthetics that draw on classical traditions and bring them into dialogue with contemporary styles.”

The artists Marzia Migliora in her studio in Turin and Rekha Rodwittiya in Baroda

Artists Marzia Migliora in her studio in Turin and Rekha Rodwittiya in Baroda | Photo credit: ArtHub Asia

The 70-minute film – commissioned and produced by ArtHub Asia and Engendered – was screened just over a month ago for a select audience at the Italian Cultural Institute in New Delhi. As the audience followed the slow movement of a shikara through Kashmir’s Dal Lake, the rising waters of Venice, the vigorous performance of an Italian dance troupe cut by a shot of an impassioned Bengali singer Baul, they also entered the silent studios of artists in India. and Italy, talking about their work and process: from Italian glass sculptures to beautifully painted Indian contemporary canvases, helping them connect the dots that are our cultural heritage.

“I have always been interested in the arts, but since I left Calcutta and [moved to] Mumbai to work in Bollywood, I lost touch,” Onir shares. “So when Myna contacted me for this project, I immediately said yes. It was a way to explore different art forms, meet artists and travel.

Paravaty Baul, a Baul singer from Bolpur in West Bengal, in a still from the film

Paravaty Baul, a Baul singer from Bolpur in West Bengal, in a still from the film | Photo credit: ArtHub Asia

A collective whole

The film gives context to contemporary Indo-Italian art by studying the semiotics (study of signs and symbols) that surrounds them in history and culture. “SAMA allows audiences to glimpse the aesthetics of both regions, imagined as a collective continuum of differing narratives that echo the voices of artists across continents and heterogeneous contemporary art practices,” says Mukherjee. “They are also excavating now rare and valuable forms of craftsmanship in Italy and India.”

Artists Ranbir Kaleka in New Delhi and Stefano Arienti in his studio in Milan, in stills from the film

Artists Ranbir Kaleka in New Delhi and Stefano Arienti in his studio in Milan, in stills from the film | Photo credit: ArtHub Asia

The project involved 50 artists from both countries and includes names such as photographer-filmmaker Sheba Chhachhi, folk singer Parvathy Baul, multimedia artist Ranbir Kaleka, designer Andrea Anastasio, artist-choreographer Alessandro Sciaronni and artists Rekha Rodwittiya, Marzia Migliora, Stefano Arienti. , and Tanya Goel.

Onir will begin filming the second volume in July/August, with the second film focusing on abstraction, religion, and its encounter with the arts and aesthetics. During this time, SAMA will travel to global film festivals, before releasing on an OTT platform.

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