When Vipin Dhanurdharan completed his 12th grade over a decade ago, he sought to study art at his dream institution: Santiniketan. As he was readying for a bid in 2012, the Kerala-born artist’s life took a decisive turn.
The year 2012 happened to be the one in which India established its largest contemporary art event. Vipin’s friends motivated him to contact the country’s pioneering international art festival. The youngster thus enrolled as a volunteer with Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 150 km north of his native Kollam district.
“It has been a great learning platform for me ever since,” says self-taught Vipin, who has been living in Kochi since 2012. “The Biennale encourages cross-disciplinary conversations through its collaborative workspace and cultural events. They play a big role in building artistic and creative communities.”
Through the Biennale’s platform, Vipin began close and regular interactions with Indian as well as international artists during the first three editions. The Biennale’s fourth edition starting next week sees the 30-year-old as a participating artist, shoulder-to-shoulder with artists like Nilima Sheikh, Guerrilla Girls, William Kentridge, and Jitish Kallat amongst others.
Vipin’s upcoming work at the Biennale is based on anti-caste teachings of 20th century Kerala social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan. To be precise, the art piece at the pivotal Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi focuses on communal feasting practiced by Ayyappan (1889-1968) as a rationalist-politician. “He conducted ‘misra bhojanam’, where people of all castes would eat together — a revolutionary event those days,” notes the artist, explaining his work titled ‘Sahodaran’ (referring to brotherhood). “I got fascinated by both his ideology and writings.”
Anita Dube, the curator of the 2018 edition, noticed Vipin’s work last year in Kochi at a group show in URU Art Harbour (now a Biennale venue, TKM Warehouse). Named ‘Mattancherry’, the exhibition featured works by 11 artists responding to the cultural and social texture of the surrounding neighbourhood.
“There, I did a video as an archive of an act that I performed over two months. Titled ‘Petrichor’ (Smell of the Earth), the work strung together records of stagnant canals flowing through Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and their surroundings,” Vipin recalls. “It began with conversations with people who have childhood memories of these canals.”
Dube found the work striking. “She is always open to new ideas, encourages us as younger participating artists to push our practices further.”
Four years before ‘Petrichor’, Kochi Biennale Foundation started a library at Pepper House, a sea-facing Biennale venue close to Aspinwall. There, Vipin got a job as the artist residency coordinator. “However, once the Biennale is on, I get shifted to the production team,” notes the artist from Thevalakkara village in Chavara block. “It taught me a lot about what it takes to make this event happen.”
Overall, Vipin believes that art is vital to a community because it adds to the richness of culture, strengthening bonds between people. “My work gives me an opportunity to meet my neighbours and know them better,” he adds. “For this project, I have been going to local people’s houses and asking to share a meal.”
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