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TARSHITO: VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM

 

There are those who follow maps, and those who make them.

Alberto Villoldo

 

Tarshito stands like a colossus on the global art landscape with  multi-faceted, cross-cultural  artistic dialogues that never cease to amaze.  Born Nicollo Strippoli in 1952 in Corato, Puglia, Italy, he was given the name ‘Tarshito’  meaning seeker of inner knowledge by   his guru Osho, Bhagwan Rajneesh whom he met on his first trip to India in 1979. For over forty-five years, in his prolific, sometimes simultaneous careers as an architect, artist, sculptor, gallerist, teacher and performer, Tarshito has revealed to the world a dazzling creative universe. Rooted in his deep understanding of the universality of human existence and the power of love, Tarshito brings to architecture, art, design and teaching the quiet strength of spirituality and a meditative, soothing quality that speaks less of self-aggrandizement and more of the potential for true human collaboration. 

 

It will not be a fallacy to call Tarshito a true Renaissance man, for he is an embodiment of the  idea expressed by Leon Bastita Alberti ( 1404-72) when he said that “ A man can do all things if he will”. Today, the term Renaissance man stands for a cultured, well educated, knowledgeable person proficient at multiple things and able to do all this effortlessly. Tarshito has been a trailblazer, charting a path both in life and art that is so unique, so individualistic that it is instantly recognizable as his vision.  Indeed,  it is very hard to contain Tarshito’s exuberant vision of Life and Love,  Be-ing and Do-ing into neat little boxes.  One look at Tarshito’s diverse portfolio of  architectural projects, paintings, textiles, sculptures, teaching assignments and performative projects will allow for the multiple talents of this man to be acknowledged as larger than life. 

 

Tarshito’s first trip to India as a young man happened rather serendipitously when his parents gave him some money to travel after his architecture degree. His partner at that time wanted to come to India and so,  he came for what was to be a life-transforming trip. Fascinated by Indian mysticism, Tarshito began exploring meditation and met Bhagwan Rajneesh or Osho, the spiritual guru who opened the doors to a rich inner world. 

 

What sets Tarshito apart is his willingness to undertake collaborative projects across the globe with indigenous artist to create works that astound with their scale and ingenuity. For Tarshito, the world is indeed ‘One Family’, an idea reiterated both in the way he seeks brotherhood and sisterhood with his collaborators worldwide and his works such as the borderless map series and the Warrior of Love assemblages. Be it in India, Nepal, Thailand, Brazil, Morocco, Bangladesh, Peru, China or Italy, his collaborations are conscious, built as much on relationships as creativity. Like a magician, Tarshito mixes materials and motifs, metaphor and meaning, constantly seeking to achieve with his collaborators a true jugalbandi (literally ‘entwined twins’  from musical duets), a coming together not just in terms of a physical artwork but also, a true melding of souls, totally embodying the concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – the world is one family. 

 

Over the years, Tarshito has developed an artistic vocabulary, which though influenced by  cultures across the world, is still uniquely his, a signature fusion of ideas and forms. He employs certain motifs repeatedly, building up a fascinating cadence and making it interesting to see the same form in different materials or cultural contexts. Using ancient techniques embedded in material cultures across the world such as pottery, embroidery, weaving, painting, ceramics, metalsmithing, all of which rely on human hands to become tangible, Tarshito and his collaborators create works that define time anew and make us question classifications of ‘Old’ and ‘New’, ‘Traditional’  and ‘Contemporary’. Like any great art, Tarshito’s repertoire leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. 

Two prominent motifs in Tarshito’s projects are the vase and roots, which are often juxtaposed with art by indigenous artists.   The vase for him is a sacred receptacle, rooted in this world but open to receiving the gifts of the divine. Roots have multiple meanings – the idea of being rooted in one’s sense of self, in the world as well as exploring the non-physical plane.  Another motif close to Tarshito’s heart is that of the  Warrior of Love, an oxymoron expressing an archetype of the new humanity who is open, sensitive and who values love more than war.   Trees and animals too find a place in his works,  recognized as sentient beings and a vital part of the Universe we humans co-exist in.  

 

Einstein once said, “ You cannot use an old map to explore a new world”.   Tarshito’s map inspired artworks made collaboratively with indigenous artists explore the physical and cultural geography he encounters while travelling across the globe. He began redrawing the world as he saw it, sans boundaries to highlight the importance of connection beyond time and place. Tarshito’s imagery of a connected and borderless world is  perhaps fantastical but serves as a poignant reminder of how borders divide, especially in our strife-torn world. 

 

Tarshito’s journey in life and his artistic oeuvre  resembles the spiral vortex, which radiates out  and draws in simultaneously, infinitely, and eternally. He draws from ancient traditions, revived by them at his core and in turn, revitalizing them through his artistic expressions. Tarshito is truly the seeker, attracting new adventures, and then with his collaborations worldwide, radiating a vision of beauty and humanity at its best. 

 

In this free-wheeling conversation, Tarshito reveals the importance of India in his life and his artistic journey. 

Minhazz: As a young man growing up in Italy, how did you decide to come to India?  Your trip to India became such a turning point in your life, right? 

Tarshito: Before I get to that, I would like to open our meeting in a nice way. I image myself and you here in this place of India. My focus right now is my feet. And from my feet start the roots,  they go inside (the earth) and they meet your roots. Your roots are going somewhere. My roots too are  going somewhere and they come out maybe to my place in Bari to meet my family or to meet my friends in other places. I would like to start with this imagery. 

The first travel in India was not my decision really. I had finished my degree in architecture and my parents gave me some money to travel. My girlfriend at that time was crazy about India and she kept saying we must go to India. I started the trip by first travelling with her to Greece by boat and then to Turkey and we made our way through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. It was all a sort of initiation. Until then, I had not travelled a lot in my life. So, for me this travel was very  beautiful. Slowly, I felt the feeling of the East. After Afghanistan and Pakistan where the women were veiled, India felt like an explosion of humanity. It was a special love, real love, quick love when I came here. And at that moment, I wanted to understand the meaning of meditation. It was all very strange because in Itay, I had no idea, no background of meditation at all. 

In those days, travellers to Delhi stayed mostly in Paharganj. I spoke to many of them and they suggested to go to Dharamshala for Buddhism,  Rishikesh  for yoga and then Vrindavan for Hare Krishna. It was the first time for me, this meeting with meditation. It was beautiful in Dharamshala but after one week, ten days, I wanted to go somewhere else so I went to Rishikesh. I remember seeing the foreigners all dressed in white, walking slowly –  it was all new for me. Hare Krishna was beautiful too. Then I met someone who told me about Pune, about Bhagwan Rajneesh and so I went there.  I was so happy there, so happy to see the men and women with long hair dressed in orange and ochre robes. They hugged for minutes, and they  danced. I ended up staying there for five months. 

Minhazz: How old were you at that point of time? 

Tarshito: I was 25 or 26 . It was beautiful. I added to the knowledge of architecture, the mother of art, the knowledge of inner space. Before this, I had no idea about the meaning of inner space. The time I spent at Bhagwan Rajneesh’s ashram was very important for me because I worked so much with psychology and meditation with Bhagwan. After that, I came back to Italy and started my working life. But I started working between meditation and art and in that period, it was very strange  because no one was speaking so much about meditation and inner space. Now it is very common but, in that period, the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, it was all very new. An architect speaking about meditation and making houses with the energy of meditation, perhaps a corner for meditation was very strange. I live in the South of Italy, but magazines  and people from the North, from Milan came to see me and my work.  At that time, I was always dressed in orange or red robes because of Osho. When I met people, I could immediately tell if the person was open or if they had come with pre-conceived ideas. When they saw me dressed in the robes, some people would be like “Wow. Why are you dressed like this? “ and were curious to know more. So, it was easy for me to understand if the person was open-minded or closed. 

I opened in Bari a gallery and studio with my girlfriend where we did a lot of projects, always mixing meditation with design and art. This got me a lot of attention because many magazines wrote about me. 

Minhazz : So, there was engineering on the outside and engineering on the inside in your life? 

Tarshito: Yes, it was a very good and very strong life. I invited the best artists of Italy that I loved in that moment.  Also, at that time, in the world, there was a big change regarding art, design and photography. Earlier, there were borders- this is art, this is craft, this is design. In the 80’s, it all became very mixed and I was very comfortable with this kind of unity. I was coming to India regularly for spiritual reasons but I began to see the richness of the arts and crafts and I was in love with it all. I did a collection  of carpets in Nepal using the Tibetan technique and I called it the Carpets of Meditation. I asked artists in Italy and across the world to give me a sketch which I produced as a carpet. It was very beautiful. 

When I would meet renowned architects, I would ask for a sketch from them and they would say “Tarshito, I don’t know what this carpet of Meditation is?” I would bring them tiger patterned rugs because you see many religious icons, holy figures sitting and meditating on tiger skins. So, then they understood the concept of carpet of meditation. The first collection I did from India was carpets and tapestries using chain-stitch embroidery from Kashmir. Some very famous artists of  Italy collaborated with me for this project even though they didn’t know me personally because they liked the idea of the project –  it was exciting. 

Minhazz:  Why is the idea of collaboration,  of joining forces so important for you?

Tarshito: It’s because I like relationships. I like the humanity of working together. I don’t like to work alone. Now when I collaborate with a brother or sister in India, Bangladesh, Peru, China, Brazil, Morocco, or Thailand, it’s so beautiful. I feel one with myself, with you, one with our roots, one with the sky, one with the artists. 

Minhazz : Do you mean to say that you are looking for the universality of human experiences, where differences go away? 

Tarshito: Yes, Yes. I am looking for the soul. The soul is beyond the colour of the skin, money, or even culture. For me, there is only one culture and the culture is love, simply love. I am travelling to different parts of the world just because I want to feel the brotherhood or sisterhood of being human – be it in Colombia or India or anywhere in the world. 

Minhazz: So, would you say this is akin to the Indian belief of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family ?

Tarshito: Yes, Yes. I feel so comfortable when I meet people in their villages.  Time stops. The sound comes like a caress. In the beginning, everyone looks at each other very shyly but after that, there is much joy in working together. I recently went to a Santhal village and it felt like purification. Such gentle people, no arrogance, no violence. A display of women power – the women do everything. They help each other with everything. It was very nice energy to see and experience. I like to work with the traditional artists, the indigenous communities, the native people all around the world. It is very important to stay associated with them. 

Minhazz: You have worked with traditional communities all over the world. What is the main thing you have observed? 

Tarshito: The main thing is that they do not let the mind take over their lives. They do not allow mind-building around many things. They keep things simple. 

Minhazz: Do you mean that they rely less on the intellect and operate more on a soul or heart level? 

Tarshito: Yes. We are too intellectual. There is a story that God created humans but know when he sees humans, he says this is not the human I created because ( pointing to his heart) I had put the centre here. But now the centre is in the head. This is a little story but it’s very true. 

Minhazz:  So, you mean in native cultures, things are done from the heart centre ? 

Tarshito: For example, say in Colombia or India, before doing the project, I think I will ask to start with a ritual because the work is like a prayer and then there is a celebration.  But I don’t need to because in traditional communities, before they begin anything, they start with a ritual, a prayer, like painting an OM, or offering something. This is so beautiful because it means they are living a life in continuation from ancient times, following practices that are very old, rituals that have never stopped. I like to be part of this, it feels like a continuation of the past to the future. 

Minhazz: So, you mean like a link to the past and the future in the moment? Like an act of meditation? 

Tarshito: Yes, India is full of such moments. In the past few years, many people from the tribal communities, from the villages have moved to the city.  They lose a lot of things. But I understand – it’s because they want their children to go to good schools. But the relationships are now different. Before I was communicating with the artists with body language. Now I speak to the son or the daughter who know English. Sometimes, the son or the daughter are not happy to be doing this role – it is very different now. 

Minhazz: You spoke earlier about the importance of continuity and rituals. 

Tarshito: Rituals are very important. The ritual is in relationship with the symbol and the symbol is a universal language. And through the ritual, we give new life to the symbol. 

 Minhazz: What are the most striking changes you have seen in your work with artists across India? 

Tarshito: When the people leave the villages, something very strong happens. But in some ways, there is no change. Things remain the same in the villages. For example, forty years ago, I met a Warli artist in his village. When I came back after a few years again, what was different was that they were so happy to see me. He passed away but I continued to work with his sons. 

Minhazz: So, for you, building a relationship is very important 

Tarshito: Yes, it is very important. It is the caress of my soul. The caress of the body we know – we can choose massage or other things – it is beautiful. But the caress of the soul – how ? where? For me, there is one way – when you get the feeling you are my brother, a feeling of connection. In the village, I get this feeling and I take this back with me to my life in Italy and everywhere. 

Minhazz: Why  is this sense of connection so precious to you? 

Tarshito: It is not easy to say you are my brother to say to an architect in New York that I know. But now I say this to people – you are my brother; you are my sister and they are happy. They say “Yes Tarshito, we are”.  The feeling is deep, very deep. But this experience of brotherhood I first experienced in India and slowly I took it with me everywhere. That’s why India is so special for me because I first found this sense of connection here. When  I go to the villages here, they are so happy to see me. Once, they told me “Tarshito please wait. A group of women weavers are coming to meet you. Please give them a blessing”. I thought a monk was coming but they said “ No Tarshito, you give the blessing”. Maybe, because they felt that I had come to them in Truth. So, then I told them their work is precious because they are the bridge between the past and the here and now and that the sound of the loom is the rhythm of life.

Minhazz: You are going to have your show at the Bihar Museum shortly. Tell us more about that.

Tarshito: Yes, I am very excited about the show. The Bihar Museum space is lovely and it will be great to display all the work done over the years in collaboration with artists from different traditions such as Odisha patachitra, Kalamkari, Warli, Gond, Madhubani and Cheriyal painting, Kutch embroidery, Naga weaving and many more. A few works made in Bangladesh with kantha embroidery will also be part of the show.

Notes

Curatorial Note

In a world torn by strife and borders, Tarshito stands like a colossus, whose vision matches his ambition to celebrate brotherhood through artistic collaboration. His practice is a testament to cross-cultural exchange, a celebration of common humanity, and a deep respect for India’s cultural heritage, shaping his art and life profoundly.

 

Born in Italy, in 1952, Tarshito pursued architecture before his transformative journey to India in 1979. Since then, his extensive migratory pilgrimages across India ignited a passionate journey, nurturing a valuable repository of diverse Indian folk traditions and deep spiritual understanding, fostering close relationships with craftsmen and infusing new energy into indigenous practices and rare crafts. Amidst fading echoes of cultures lost to time, his sojourns have helped frame a critical archive. 

 

This enigmatic figure forges a unique path, merging indigenous essence with contemporary expressions. His canvas is symbolic, a distinct vocabulary evolving through the medium of creativity — a gift, shared joyfully and generously, often in partnership with unacknowledged folk artists.

 

A Warrior of Love — he straddles continents in search of artistic inspiration and partnership, celebrating brotherhood. Hand-painting new geographies, he physically carries these borderless maps across continents to the remotest villages where he holistically collaborates with inheritors of a pre-modern past; his series of creating borderless maps and countries serves as an ode to a unified global community, transcending all boundaries.

 

In every way, each collaboration has turned out to be a celebration — a union of brotherhood, harmonising the diverse practices beyond binaries of folk and modern, contemporary  and conceptual. 

Over the last three decades, his behemoth engagement has carved a contemporary space for artisanal craft traditions within Indian modernity in an unparalleled scale — especially in the subcontinent, and in recent years, in Columbia, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Myanmar.

Venue

Bihar Museum, Patna, Bihar

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