A sculptor's ode to women

A sculptor's ode to women

Italian sculptor Simona Bocchi’s artworks are inspired by the contrast she found between the way women in India and Italy are treated by men, writes Humra Quraishi.

When Simona Bocchi, a specialist in contemporary sculptures from Italy, first landed in India nearly eight years ago, she knew she couldn’t be just another tourist visiting this exotic and spiritual country. 

She simply had to live here, get a feel of the land and its people, soak in the diversity and channelise all those valuable influences and impressions into her art. “I knew it wouldn’t be enough to be here only for a holiday. I remember when I had come here I met up with the Italian Ambassador, Antonio Armellini, who was aware of my work. I was thrilled when he invited me to exhibit at the Italian Embassy in Delhi. It’s been one wonderful experience after another ever since,” says Bocchi, who hails from Monza, the picturesque Italian town that hosts the annual Formula One Grand Prix.

It was her fascination with India’s religious diversity and spiritual heritage that motivated Bocchi to plan her trip. “The fact that this land has embraced so many religions makes it more unique for me. I had studied a few Hindu and Buddhist expositions of some spiritual masters and so, initially, I travelled around to meet them,” she elaborates.

When the time came to drop anchor at a place that could be a home away from home, Bocchi zeroed in on Udaipur, in Rajasthan. She says, “Considering the fact that my personal and professional life complement each other, I found the romantic city of Udaipur the perfect place to create art. It also has a great history of marble craftsmanship. From that moment on, my life shaped up so naturally that I did not feel the need to ask myself the question whether and for how long I intended to stay. Even today, I shuttle between Delhi and Udaipur and have not thought about moving on to a new destination.”

Artsist’s first

After she settled down, one of the first works she created was a marble sculpture of Shiva and Parvathi, commissioned by a Baroda-based arts foundation in 2009. This piece was well-received and from then on Bocchi has collaborated with numerous local and national-level craftsmen specialising in marble carving and inlay work, learning from their techniques whilst teaching them new methods of sculpting. 

Of course, it is women who form the heart and soul of her sculptures. She elaborates, “My years in Udaipur have made me realise that Italian women are spoilt. The men are our knights in shining armour, and they make their partners feel like princesses. India presents a starkly contrasting picture. It still shocks me to see Indian women doing all the hard work needed to keep their homes and lives going without so much as a single complaint, while the men are usually seen sitting around drinking chai with their friends! That’s why my work represents the feminine in general, but especially Indian women. The underlying text, however, is: ‘fragile and delicate’. I want to draw attention to the fact that women cannot always be taken for granted. This is my way of telling those who still fail to recognise their value, that without women this world would cease to exist.”

One woman working

Bocchi is very close to all her works because, unlike many artists, she likes to do her pieces entirely on her own, “I don’t believe in outsourcing the hard work to assistants. I like the feeling of turning a shapeless block of stone into a monumental work of art. When I am in the middle of creating something, I eat dust for 12 hours a day for weeks on end. Which is also why when the time comes to display them at some show at a faraway location, I like to handle the transportation myself as well. After the sculpture is loaded on to the truck, I follow it; I don’t leave my babies in the hands of unknown people!”

While work has always been central to Bocchi’s existence in India, there is no denying that the country has presented her with a myriad challenges. “There were many that only a foreigner would perceive. At first, I found it difficult to get around. From the organised daily routine I used to follow in Italy, I found myself now in the middle of a chaotic environment, leading a lifestyle that could not adhere to any sense of time and commitments made. Moreover, as a free-spirited, independent white woman, I did attract a lot of curious glances even as I did things that were otherwise quite normal for me. For instance, I did try to cycle around Udaipur to explore its treasures but due to cultural differences, I realised it was not something that I could do. There have been several restrictions and it has taken me time to understand them and adjust myself to the new world,” reveals the attractive artist.

Believer in fate

But Bocchi is a strong believer in fate which, according to her, brought her to India. “I am sure I was predestined to be in India. That is why I had the courage to leave all the certainties of a prosperous and successful business in Italy for the unknown, starting from scratch a new and completely different life. Few can pass from one extreme to another. However, for me, it’s a vital and an exciting challenge that has opened new channels of consciousness and brought new relationships and friendships into my life,” says the woman who is currently in a relationship with an “Indian who is more Italian than me”.

In keeping with her appetite for change, Bocchi presently has taken on something quite different from sculpting marble: she is now writing a book. “I am penning my memoirs — from my early life to discovering India, through the eyes of an artist and explorer. It is a book about Bocchi, the artist and the lover,” she reveals.

And what about her plans? “I want to create monuments and public works that are in harmony with the environment and architecture. This is why I travel and visit unexplored destinations around the world. I am working to establish a movement of artists and researchers, where the two categories of people can exchange ideas. It will be my way of counterbalancing the oppressions we suffer at the hands of the so-called superpowers; my contribution to awakening the consciousness to create a better world,” she remarks.

Artists are known to be sensitive and responsive to the events happening around them, and Bocchi is no different. She is convinced that while artists have many questions, there are no straight answers to them. “But, as we explore life in various forms through our work, we sometimes do get to understand it just a little bit more,” she says.

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