Simona Bocchi is an Italian Artist, more exactly an artist in India and in Italy, a sculptor, laureate of national and international awards who found her way to India in 2006. Born in Monza, North Italy, she had dreamt of Mother India since her early childhood. She chose India as her home to work with marble in the beautiful town of Udaipur in Rajasthan. In Delhi, the Italian Ambassador asked her to organize exhibitions of her art that has a cross-cultural dimension.
Simona Bocchi studied marble and bronze sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera with Professor Silverio Riva. After her degree at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara, she went with a scholarship to Wimbledon Academy. Art therapy was the subject of her diploma that later matured into her book From Art Brut to Art Therapy, published in 2019. Simona has since been facilitating as an art therapist whilst working as an artist, travelling and living in Sardegna, England, Norway, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tel Aviv and ten years in India, intensely. Realizing various exhibitions in New Delhi, her home and working place for many years was the inspiring city of Udaipur. That’s where I happened to visit her in 2010.
To write about Simona Bocchi’s art, I feel a preliminary word has to be said, but feel free to skip this first part.
Loves creates ecstasy
There is art and art… and there are personal preferences and tastes (de gustibus non est disputandum…) that carry us to a specific art, and as much as no general idea can warrant theoretically what “art” is about, there is an unfailing feeling conveyed by direct experience that blows away dry and heady theories. Sanskrit language has a term for this direct evidence given in the immediacy of this experience: sakshatkara, the eye-witnessed awareness given in direct experience. This is, always, an act of liberation, not liberation per sé, but a considerable and existentially substantial part of it, the feeling of somehow coming home to oneself, being with oneself by sharing the otherness of what is out there, of being oneself in connection with the world.
Who has found his art is being healed… (Qui a trouvé son art est guéri) goes a French saying, and, it seems the same is true of who is witnessing art, he is also being healed, healed from…? There are moments in our life when it becomes true what André Malraux said about the “function” of art: “l’art brise le monde des apparences”; a work of art may facilitate a mental or spiritual breakthrough! Art can be inspiring, elevating and thus therapeutic, opening us up, getting us out of our mental box, art is thereby efficiently anti-depressive! That’s good news for the world we are living in. We need these moments of being carried away… to ourselves, to the Self that seeks to be revealed in the inner space whilst our self or mind tends to be roaming around, in outer spaces. Love is ecstatic: “Ho eros ekstatikos estin” said Denys the Areopagite (also called Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita), translated and much commented by the Medieval philosophers as: “Amor est extasim faciens”. Yes, it is love that creates ecstasy and it is liberating us from the inner caughtness, of being confined to a mental box (enstasis), the mind that is bent on masterminding us, even more so through our own hereditary, societal and self-acquired habits (samskaras and vasanas).
Is there a way out? Yes, there is. Experience is the sole master of this theory of non-theory, the end of all theories, because it takes you back to life, to your own Self, your unique journey, that what you signed up for, your enthusiasm which means living in the energy of the presence of your divine Self.
“All life is yoga”, says Sri Aurobindo. Yoga, fundamentally, stands for all forms of “connecting” to oneSelf, to the Divine, to Others. And in Life, there are instants, glimpses that are integral yoga of the Self, that are intensely and efficiently yogic and can be experienced as life-saving. The alternative to dying is birthing, birthing into our true being. No technique can do this, no general theory will provide what only the personal art of self-realization can bring about. What should I do? Is there anybody to be imitated? If you want to follow me, follow yourself…, goes an artist’s advice, reportedly. We are, each of us, the artists of our life. That’s the work we came for. There are as many expressions of this art as there are artists…
It takes some courage to be that artist. The courage to be and to posit the conscious act of choosing oneself in the light of the highest life-purpose. It is also true, in this context, that bad circumstances need bad remedies… We post-modern subjects have liberated ourselves from many constraints and traditions, and fortunately so, through all sorts of revolutions, social, political, etc., to arrive at a point of outer freedom that still is enviable for many people on this planet. And, at the same time: the real, deep and lasting revolution is yet to be worked out for each of us and it cannot be a revolution or rebellion ‘against’…, it is rather the path of creative self-acceptance, a uniquely designed self-evolution, of a process of unfolding that allows for the blossoming of our authenticity, the delight of Self-experience in a state of connection with the universe, of an ethical co-existence fostering democratic rights and rules on a planetary scale. It is about holistic bliss, happiness here and now…to be shared among us all. All spiritual traditions know about this – and also about the difficulty to maintain these instants, these glimpses of that enlightening experience at the level of a lasting state of consciousness. This is as much a matter of personal “work” as it is pure grace. Rather it is pure grace, given to us in an effortless intention of openness, of awareness, of surrender.
Why is it that since Arthur Schopenhauer (inspired by A.H. Anquetil-Duperron’s partial translation of the Upanishads into Latin, from a previous Persian translation, published as Oupnek'hat in Strasburg in 1802), Friedrich Nietzsche and later Martin Heidegger art has come to the forefront of contemporary philosophy? Isn’t it to affirm radical freedom and the insight that no general theory can warrant the experience of the unique truth of every singular being, and, ultimately, the true answer to my, your and any artist’s question: who am I?
It takes our own artist’s intuitive look into our Self to see the surprise and the dignity of the unprecedented and incomparable difference that we find in us from anything already known that we gleaned by way of comparison. Self-perception is part of our self-constituency. Art, intuition and therapy thus go together. Art becomes a way to show the transparency of the real as it is, when discovered as unhidden (a-letheia, truth as the unhidden openness of being), open to our direct perception. Art creates a space that reveals the “world” and something of ourselves. Art can be therapeutic as it reveals - to a certain extent - the uniqueness of each of us, our singularity as much as our interwovenness with the universal human as my friend Barbara Marx Hubbard used to say; each of us as a member of Humanity.
There is prose to talk in general, and there is poetry to name the unique, the singular, the particular that eludes all generalizations. Science does not give the answer to my self-inquiry. There is no science about the unique (de singularibus non est scientia, said the Medieval philosophers). Uniqueness goes with solitude. There is a kind of loneliness in the creative act, or rather before its creative outbreak, imminent before the production of the never-ever-before-existed-New. It resembles ethical decision-making. Should I dare be myself? It might cost me a high price. But the result could be uniquely gratifying. Beata solitudo, sola beatitude. The creative solitude opens up to the pan-human, to what connects us with everything that exists. Artistic loneliness eventually turns into a felt experience that separation is indeed an illusion: We are One.
It may take time to discover this. There is no shortcut to personal liberation. No spiritual bypassing: we carry ourselves wherever we go; the job has to be done in this lifetime. Uniqueness and subjectivity can feel like hell, temporarily, only to break open the shells and the sheaths (koshas) that the ego, in its well-meant but ill-conceived intention of survival - and to preserve us from destruction - keeps on constructing fearfully and stressfully to weirdly withhold the best from ourselves: the experience of our deep peace as we meet with who we really are, the unborn, imperishable and happy Self-Soul-Atman…
No daunting solitude anymore, nor hell… Aloneness becomes all-oneness. There is no true happiness without being all of whom I am. Shadows included. Shadow-work is doing consciously away with all the masks that fear tends to bear and the self-created burden of the ego (ahamkara) is imposing on us…
Now seen in the light and in the energy of an existential purpose these states of mind propel our spiritual journey: melancholy, acedia, hypochondria, taedium vitae, el desengaño, le démon de midi, le spleen, l’ennui, la noia… plus other sorts of everyday and everybody’s borderline states and depressions. These old and new names stand for the varieties of the transient states of a heavy and perplexed mind now being detected in its transitory cathartic function of mediation. These states of mind are in fact temporary and are discovered as means of liberation, and, if accepted in full surrender, they are instrumental to conveying uplifting and enlightening energies. Energies of unique personal Happiness. Out of my tunnel – now in full light. Beata solitudo – sola beatitude, say the Carthusian hermits.
If we stop cutting psychology and psychiatry from spirituality, we can go ahead, individually and collectively. We do need the expansion of our personal space and integrate what all our utopian aspirations want to include and safeguard in the public space. Only by being idealistic and true about the depth and width of our needs as universal humans can we be realistic in everyday life. Le vingtième siècle sera mystique ou pas du tout, as André Malraux is quoted to have said. We are late! Enfin, the twenty-first century needs to become spiritual, founded on the rediscovery of a universal spirituality or, as we can see, it will turn into being catastrophically depressive on a personal level and irretrievably destructive on a societal and environmental level.
Who am I? The Upanishad answers: Tat tvam asi: That Thou Art! Ok. But how do I get there? Do sciences instruct me? Only direct experience reconciles us with ourselves as we go out of our self (the enstatic ego) to meet with our true Self, the ecstatic, self-delightful presence of what in us is divine, the satchitananda, the graceful coincidence of enlightening truth, all-embracing insight and abundant love, according to Indian wisdom.
Discovering correspondences between Indian and Western religious wisdom has been part of pioneering minds, like the French monk Henri Le Saux (+1973), Abhishiktananda in India, and before him Brahmabandhav Upadhyay (+1907), an Indian Brahmin convert to Christian faith, recognizing the satchitananda as spiritually in tune with the Western trinitarian model of the Divine as Father/Memoria, Son/Intellectus and Spirit/Amor.
Further correspondence is worth mentioning in the context of arts: according to medieval western philosophy, every being manifests the (transcendental) aspects of being as true (verum), good (bonum) and intrinsically beautiful (pulchrum). This theory of being is close to the pristine Indian threefold insight of: satyam, shivam, sundaram. The three are manifest in the artist I wanted to talk about, the artist and her art.
Simona Bocchi e la sua arte estatica
Love produces ecstasy (amor est extasim faciens). Ecstasy is manifesting Love.
This being said and apologizing for withholding the reader’s attention, I can now talk about Simona Bocchi, about Simona’s art.
My point of view, of course, will be a personal one, subjectively woven into the tissue of my own experience. Not purely subjective though. Phenomenology has made us understand that our subjectivity is always already interwoven into the net of transcendental intersubjectivity of our lifeworld, the Lebenswelt, in Husserl’s terms, meaning the pre-conceptual meeting point with the world, “our world”. As much as all we think and say is personal and thus subjective, all these individual lights, so to say, happen to highlight an enlightening experience that may at times become common to many of us, as a novelty in a piece of art is being offered to us to be seen as real for you and me.
Simona Bocchi’s art can be seen. It is set free into an open space to be seen… coming from afar. Inside out. Her art is being put out there to be shared in our common space. Something never seen before, a new production has become visible. A normal creative process, yes.
Her passion for marble sculpturing brought her from Italy, Carrara of course, to Udaipur, India, instilling and impregnating her work with influences of Indian art.
I was touched by her statues, in marble and in bronze, also her drawings and works with jute and this happened in a moment of full inner presence and openness when no consciously obstructing veils were limiting my perception. This art went directly into my soul.
Simona Bocchi’s art is ecstatic in the sense I was describing, truth, insight and love coincide and convey a provocative energy that is ecstatic, one may also say spiritual or mystic, as I feel patent and salient in the statue We are One.
We are One attracted my attention to Simona Bocchi’s art. There is nothing to affirm, nothing to defend, nothing to theorize, let alone compare: this is a transparent art that manifests inner intentions and aspirations that the artist is expressing, putting it out there, disinterested-generously… offering what she can give and manifest through matter, lovingly, constructive without any defining purpose, l’art pour l’art in the pristine sense of a trusting movement of a childlike mind yielding into the goodness, lightness and delight of Being.
Surrounded by a culture of disenchantment which heralds a planetary catastrophe and a cultural pessimism of a fin du siècle et fin du monde, Simona Bocchi is one of those souls who stand up for the momentous presence of a here and now, and in her authentic genre, shows in her art not so much the consoling remnants of a paradis perdu, but rather, in a twinkling of the inner eye, out of her (Indian) third eye, creatively births a paradis trouvé, the paradise of true and life-engendering freedom. This freedom is by no means abstract, it creates a feeling of happiness in the here and now. Her exercise of freedom, in art, provides this same energy as potential enlightenment in others. She is energetically present in her works of art, totally, unshielded, nude, for them to become instruments of experiencing oneself in one’s nakedness of being, to feel this crude and graceful experience of seeing - for the first time? - who we just happen to be: that thou art!
Dante Alighieri said that he almost wore out his eyes reading philosophical treatises on freedom, only to conclude that freedom is concrete, it is felt in experience, in realization: senz’operar la libertà non si sente.
It is only by seizing one’s part of personal freedom, by realizing this freedom that the production of art can come about. In Simona Bocchi’s art, the world exists, again, as a field of possibilities, of freedom, wisdom and joy. Without sacrificial sublimations, the Sublime has retrieved its elevating role, in a humanistic, Greek and Renaissance élan of freedom that her bronze statue Freedom, masterfully represents, con estro, artfully with some perfection. The joy of autonomy in tune with interconnectedness and interdependence emanates from this statue in which the inner and the outer man are connected, reunited as a uomo universale.
If freedom is indeed a universal quality, it has to be cherished, chiseled, be worked upon, to be available and ready as an existential instrument of realization. It is here, at this delicate border or rather at this meeting point of cultures and civilizations, that Simona Bocchi’s artistic sensitivity touches the finest plane of convergence of what I like to describe as two approaches, complementary in nature: the deeply relationally oriented approach of Western culture, that of self-realization in relationship, and the Indian yogic approach of a (even deeper?) self-grounded realization based on a radical self-referral. The preexisting Self somehow manifests… through the practice of yoga, of inner unity, and until this emerges in experience, until this consciousness jells as the presence of Me: what is the use of relationship…? This may sound harsh to Western ears, and it can indeed be felt this way. Let’s see and receive that part of this truth that works as an antidote to a stressful and self-exhausting emphasis on relationship as the model of self-realization, as (by some tendency exclusively) seen in contemporary Western culture and its psychology. To truly relate to somebody else, we have to be somewhere, grounded in our Self. Relation, re-latio, from the verb re-ferre means to carry one part of the binding link, which presupposes to be well grounded in who we are. Who we are is a philosophical and a spiritual question. Socrates referred to the inscription in the temple of Delphi: Know thyself (gnothi seauton). Thyself (autos, like in auto-nomy) refers to the Self that Indian philosophy has been exploring since the Upanishads through the practice of yoga, which is the art of self(sva)-connecting (svabhava, svadharma, svashakti…). How do we self-relate? How does this experience look like?
Simona Bocchi’s art is intrinsically tantric. Tantra, etymologically is an instrument (-tra) to create and work with the creative tension (tan-) and the dynamism of life. Tantra and freedom go together. There is no freedom without tantra and there is no tantra - no deep experience of life without freedom. According to Kashmir Shaivism that has gone the deepest in exploring this understanding of tantra, it is not through “work”, not stress, not fatiguing and meritorious exertion…, it is in an attitude of effortlessness (anupaya) that the deepest personal grace is given to us. But in order to perceive this, we have to be at home in ourselves, self-grounded, yogastah, feeling the joy of this dynamic self-realizing empowerment: svatantriashakti.
There are schools, as they say…, of left tantra, Osho’s, and right tantra, as for instance in Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga. Simona Bocchi is an intuitive. She seems to come from a non-school, following a non-doctrine; she departs from an inner knowledge that by way of intuition manifests both tantric approaches in a light and playful way. Again, a beautiful naïveté makes her tap into timeless wisdom that no books can teach you, only a master, a true guru, the inner dispeller of darkness (gu-ru). Does she teach us that the satguru, the guru of truth, is within ourselves, in you and me…?
Words can be limiting as they pretend to define and pinpoint what in reality is a flux, a living flow and a movement towards more intensity and completion. Simona Bocchi’s art is about this living flow. It is about passion, desire and aspiration, about respect and distance, about union in difference, about a naked immediacy and fearless presence, an ultimate uniqueness connected with a togetherness of all elements of the universe, a multiple and colorful cosmos, larger and richer than we are used to think or educationally instructed to allow ourselves to dream of. Simona Bocchi’s universe is full of respect for the otherness of the other, of the discovery of identity, of courage and strength, inspiring trust in the presence and availability of our personal resources emerging in the here and now. Her art manifests what happens when the infinite falls right into our spirit: it blows our mind (away), it opens our heart, it brings us into our own ecstasy.
Thank you, Simona Bocchi for your Art. Thank you for bridging over worlds, for weaving a new cultural tissue showing that We are One.