Tue, 07 Nov 2000

Italy opens cultural center to the public

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): The American author Mark Twain once wrote that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo. It is also said that people who do not know much about Italy are those who are always conscious of an inferiority.

To prevent that from happening to people here, the new Italian Cultural Institute opened its doors in Jakarta last month, with the goal of increasing and intensifying exchanges between people of both countries.

Speaking at his plush, new offices in a recently renovated building in Menteng where the institute has found a permanent home, the institute's director, Alberto Di Maura, said that for him this is a dream come true.

Having worked for a year to make that dream a reality, he continues to brim with colorful ideas for the institute, which offers language courses and workshops on different aspects of Italian culture and lifestyle.

There is a library that will eventually provide both reading and video materials to members, while a multipurpose hall with glistening marble floors is the center for exhibitions, including screenings of the best from Italian cinema.

In the cards are courses in drawing and painting and fashion design. Giving a tour of the institute, which is spread over two levels, Alberto led The Jakarta Post to a large kitchen which will soon have regular demonstrations in not just traditional Tuscan cooking, but will also cover the gastronomic history of the specialities of various Italian regions, encouraging participants to experiment with recipes.

The hope is to give people here a better understanding of the different corners of a proud country, whose fashions and manners Shakespeare noted back in the 15th century were those that his own "tardy-apish nation limps after in base imitation".

At its inauguration on Oct. 19, an exhibition of 11 painters formerly opened the institute to the public while giving them a glimpse of contemporary art in Italy.

The display is an interesting journey into the use of paint and form by modern Italian artists. In collaboration with Jakarta's National Museum, another exhibition will open on Nov. 7, this one on the ancient and almost dying art of leather masks.

Amleto and Donato Sartori, heirs of this traditional craft, struggle to keep the art alive through their work. The exhibition will display 120 leather masks, six bronze sculptures, 70 etchings and 120 photos illustrating their work.

Now wanting to restrict the institute's activities to Jakarta alone, but to share Italian culture with more of the country, the exhibition will travel next month to the ARMA Museum in Ubud, Bali, where a seminar on commedia dell'arte will be followed by a theater performance.

Masks have been part of human civilization for centuries. While the design and materials used to make masks may have changed with time and context, the initial purpose of social communication with the help of masks remains.

Amleto's work began in post-World War II Italy as the country found itself devastated, beginning its desperate search for a more noble meaning to life than fascism, a concept that took birth in Italy and was responsible for the country playing a major part in the war.

It was at this time that sculptor Amleto began researching his cultural roots and experimenting with masks that were used in the commedia dell'arte. However, the characters and techniques of this art form lay buried and forgotten for almost two hundred years.

Amleto died at the peak of his experiments with leather masks, but left his son Donato to continue the art. Together with the architect Paola Piizi and set designer Paolo Trombetta, Donato founded the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali at Abano Terme, continuing the study of sculpture and graphic art and ethnology, both classical theater and contemporary.

This study has continued for nearly half a century and was recently rewarded by the municipal authorities of Abano Terme with the donation of a 17th century villa that is now the permanent home of the Amleto and Donato Sartori museum of masks.

Alberto, who is a great traveler, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, perhaps the first Italian to visit Asia, said that it was not the love for sea that brought him to Indonesia.

Mountains are what attract him most. Fifteen years ago, as he wondered where he should travel next, he came across information about all the volcanoes here. Promptly he packed his bags and came to Indonesia, trekking, island-hopping and conquering as many volcanoes as possible.

A year ago when he was told he was being sent to Jakarta to work his joy knew no bounds. The blueprint for setting up the cultural institute was already on his table when he arrived, and he plunged into the activity of looking for the premises, negotiating its purchase, its renovation and its eventual inauguration. Pointing out to the terrace overlooking the busy street outside, he promises a coffee corner will soon be installed under umbrellas, where like-minded people can quench their thirst as well as their curiosity about one of the most marvelous people, lands and cultures of the world.

The painting exhibition will run until Nov. 17 at the institute on Jl. Cokroaminoto 117, and the Sartori mask exhibition runs until Nov. 27 at the National Museum. For more information please call 392-7531.