Pietro Ruffo’s first solo exhibition in New Delhi called Terra Incognito would seem ordinary at first. His ideas require one to analyse his works from a different perspective to understand his art. According to 37-year-old Italian artist and architect, the series of work on display focus on the transition that took place in some countries in Asia and particularly in India. It explores concepts of freedom and emancipation that changed India’s destiny as a nation after remaining shackled for centuries under colonisation and foreign rule. The exhibition features 11 of the artist’s works done on centuries-old maps and in many frames the viewer will find perfect cut-outs of dragonflies placed all along the longitudes and latitudes.
The concept of freedom is a recurring theme in Ruffo’s works. For him, a dragonfly with a short span of life and with its ability to roam freely in all direction represents the idea of complete freedom. So how important is freedom to an artist? “Freedom is a very complex concept,” the Rome-based artist says, “Its true meaning goes away the more you delve deeper in search of its meaning. I think as an artist you feel free only if you have enemies of freedom to struggle against.”
The exhibition is on till 10 January 2016 at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre. It begins with a large work called Atlas of Architecture, drawn with ink on a world map of the year 1870. It features some of the most incredible architectural achievements of human kind. Ruffo says, “During the last few decades of the nineteenth century, there emerged a trend of expansion of European powers through colonisation of different territories. It resulted in a clash of civilisations, culture and different political models.” As a result, different languages customs and historical memories came together challenging the legitimate division of ethnic and cultural traditions.
Ruffo’s art reflects a strong influence of the history, sociology and philosophy of the world. He approaches his art with an architect’s hat on, but the end result is that of an artist. About his creative process, he says, “I usually begin with the study of social and historical context. Then once I have a theme in mind, I start drawing on a map. ” The artist is obsessed with old maps; he has used maps of 18th century till 20th century for the special Indian series in the city.
Ruffo is fascinated with the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and his treatises on freedom. As for the artists who influence his art, he says, “All artists from Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti to American contemporary artist Kara Walker gives me a reason to think and reflect on the world around us.”
His next project will be exhibited in Sicily, Italy in April 2016. Ruffo says, “It will be a big retrospective of my works including some of my biggest installations. It will include atlas of the various freedoms and my installation on Beslan.” The show will take place at Fondazione Puglisi Cosentino, an antique palace in Catania and will also include new projects.