In this interview, Dr Baldi discusses the significance of culture in relations between India and Italy.
Dr. Andrea Baldi, Director, Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, New Delhi will soon leave India for Venezuela, having completed a five year-tenure which started back in 2017. Over the last five decades, the Cultural Centre has continued to live up to its reputation of being a major cultural hub of Delhi. Dr. Baldi has been instrumental in keeping the show running despite the disruptions forced by the pandmeic over the last few years.
In this interview, Dr. Baldi discusses the significance of culture in the relations between India and Italy. He also looks back at his tenure, sharing some of his fondest memories resulting from the numerous artistic collaborations he oversaw.
Q. How do you see the significance of culture in the relations between India and Italy? How has this cultural exchange been impacted by the pandemic?
A. Generally speaking, the cultural relations between India and Italy, even if they have never been very close, if compared to those with other European countries, are very ancient, dating back to the period of the Roman Empire, when Roman merchants had established commercial presences in South India. But to come to our times, the exchanges, even if not numerous, have been very beneficial at cultural levels. I think of famous Italian artists who have stayed in India and were inspired by Indian art and culture, such as Luigi Ontani and Francesco Clemente. And even more recently, last year India was a guest of Artissima, the most important contemporary art exhibition in Italy, which had a great success. We are witnessing a rapid progress in mutual knowledge and cultural exchanges.
My task was to facilitate the knowledge of Italian culture in India. Italy, like India, has a heavy legacy to manage, a two-thousand-year-old cultural wealth, which often weighs on the image abroad. But there is also a lot of contemporary of great value that must be made known. Maybe I was more traditional when it comes to music, but for personal taste. I called jazzmen of great value, talented classical music performers. Wherever it was possible, I have brought Italian and Indian musicians together because I firmly believe that it is important to encourage mutual exchange. And it is amazing how Indian music, however different from Western music, marries with it so easily.
The exchanges went on with great ease until the arrival of the pandemic. With the shift to online activities, however, we continued collaboration with local cultural institutions. After the reopening, like a bit for everyone, I think, it was a race to secure spaces. Fortunately, thanks to the good relations established over time, we were able to get spaces for important events even outside the Centre.
Q. You have completed your tenure as the Director of the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre. How do you look back at your stint?
A. I arrived in India at the end of 2017 when all the celebratory events for the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and India were to be organized for the following year. So I didn’t have time to look around, I had to start planning right away. Fortunately, I have had a good management experience thanks to my previous two postings: Beirut and Rio de Janeiro. At the same time there was a retreat on a slightly faded image of an institution without director for some time. In short, a big job to do. And also for language courses. I was used to courses with more than a thousand students and I arrived in Delhi that were just over 100. A great challenge that I decided to meet, step by step, without getting influenced by performance anxiety, and which I believe has brought good results. And all that with a small number of collaborators. However, thanks to their dedication also, the results have come.
I remember the first time we participated in the India Art fair with our stand in which we presented a small selection of the art works kept at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And the following year, in addition to the stand, we hosted a beautiful exhibition of female artists, 3 Italians and 3 Indians, at the Italian Cultural Centre, with 550 participants attending inauguration and reception. As far as cinema is concerned, I love working with young directors. We have many talented ones in Italy. We had also begun organizing, in collaboration with the India Habitat Center, a festival of emerging directors. It was a quality festival, unfortunately interrupted by the pandemic. Also, I fondly remember the film festival on Fellini, at the reopening after the Covid in 2021 at the Habitat Center. A very successful event. Then another one on Pasolini, this year, on his birth centenary.
Q. During your tenure you brought several Italian artistes, musicians, and filmmakers to India, giving rise to so many memorable cultural extravaganzas. Tell us about your fondest memories.
A. One of the best things about my job is that I often befriend the people I bring along. Then sometimes these artists open up new paths. Shortly after I arrived in Delhi I had invited a lutenist for concerts. When he performed in Calcutta a sitarist I had met on a previous occasion came to listen to him. I got a kind of enlightenment. I told him: “Why don’t you think about doing something together? In my opinion the two instruments communicate very well.” They both liked the idea and formed a duo that now performs regularly in Europe and also came for a concert in India.
And then a story with a visual artist, Marta Roberti, who had come for the exhibition organized for the India Art Fair in 2020. I really liked her works, drawings with a very delicate stroke, almost pastels. I asked her if she would like to prepare works for an exhibition for Dante Alighieri’s 700th anniversary. She immediately accepted the offer with enthusiasm. She suggested that I prepare some designs that she wanted to have Indian artisans made as tapestries. I really liked the idea of bringing together the two worlds and two traditions. Doing a little research, also asking Indian friends in the sector, we chose to have them made in Kashmir by expert embroiderers. The result was 8 wonderful tapestries that we exhibited this year in the India Art Fair and which will now be on display in Calcutta. But the most beautiful thing is that the Dior House, having seen them only in photographs, has decided to entrust Marta with the creation of other huge tapestries to be used for their official show. These tapestries will also be made in India, this time by Dior embroiderers in Mumbai.
Q. During your tenure as well as during the tenure of the previous directors Italian Cultural Centre, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has been a major cultural hub of Delhi. What do you attribute this consistency to?
A. I am pleased that the Italian Cultural Centre is considered one of the most important cultural hubs in New Delhi. The culture of a country is made up of many things, from cinema, to visual arts to performing arts, to cooking. Italy is lucky enough to be at a high level in all of them. And finally I think it was also important to organize both large-scale events as well as minor events. Another important point, which I think is very functional, is to address a theme that we consider important during the year, for example the celebration of a cultural figure, from various points of view. Let’s take Pasolini’s celebrations this year. In addition to a retrospective of his films, there was a dance show inspired by him, as well as a cooking event; every year at the end of November, we dedicate a week to Italian cuisine, on that occasion I organize a themed Gala Dinner, this year it will be dedicated to Pasolini, who loved popular Roman cuisine, dishes of popular Roman cuisine will be served while we talk about Pasolini and clips of his films are screended.
Q. Tell us about the nature of exchange between the Italian Embassy and the Cultural Centre.
A. The collaboration with the Embassy is excellent. Our Ambassador (Vincenzo de Luca) loves culture and understands its importance as a factor of presence in the country. This is a great motivation for all of us. Many projects have been carried out jointly, or in any case started jointly, because then carrying them out together, having two different administrations, would have been very complicated from the point of view of accounting.
Q. What can be expect from the Italian Cultural Centre in the coming months. Also, tell us about your new assignment.
A. As per the internal regulations, I had to prepare the program for next year, even if I will not be the one to manage it. The new director, when he comes (but has not yet been appointed) will be free to change it at will.
However there will be a lot of music, always by young and talented artists. We will participate in major festivals and shows created by other cultural institutions.
On the other hand, I will be leaving at the end of the year for my new destination: Caracas. This is the second time I go to South America, and I am happy about it.
I will carry India with me in my heart, as I carry Brazil and Lebanon.