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Biennale Music: From Tentative Start to the Famed ‘Arts and Medicine’ Weekly Show

In Entertainment
December 06, 2018

Almost five years ago, organisers of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) came up with a unique stage programme in the run-up to the second edition of the subcontinent’s biggest contemporary art festival. Conceived as a therapeutic music concert in an unusual location, the show went on to steady as an all-Wednesday feature that seldom faced a break.

Today, exactly a week ahead of the fourth KMB, the famed ‘Arts and Medicine’ marked its 246th episode, providing forenoon solace to the crowd at its permanent venue: Government General Hospital. More than a dozen singers, chiefly Sisters from a charity institution, sang songs during the 75-minute programme. Typically, it lent a balmy feel to not just the patients at the hospital precincts in downtown Ernakulam, but also to fellow onlookers comprising their families, relatives and helps, besides doctors, paramedical staff and casual bystanders.

The series from February 2014 is a pioneering initiative of the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF, which organises the KMB) in association with suburban music organisation ‘Mehboob Memorial Orchestra’ based in Fort Kochi. This time, ‘Sisters of the Destitute’ congregation of Chunangamvely in Ernakulam district teamed up with a few students from various schools of their locality in Keezhmadu panchayat east of Aluva.

‘Art and Medicine’ has over its four years showcased various artistes — many of them amateurs yet gifted with exceptional singing talent. “That way, ours is the world’s only biennale that doesn’t fall silent after an edition,” notes KBF president Bose Krishnamachari, a co-curator of the first KMB (2012). “Well, ‘Art and Medicine’ may not strictly be a biennale art project, yet it remains integral to the ethos of the KMB. The cultural programme is not restricted to music; we have had editions where cartoonists and caricaturists visited the patients and created works on the spot.”

KBF’s founder-trustee Bony Thomas, who is in charge of the all-Wednesday show, is glad that ‘Art and Medicine’ has a rich bank of artistes who are happy to volunteer. “In the initial days, we struggled a bit to get performers. That phase soon got over, chiefly because of people’s support and the reach of KMB as an aesthetic experience,” he says. “Many artistes feel that it is their way of giving back to society. Overall, the programme has been connecting people from various spectrums by bringing them together.”

The programme had its genesis with an early-2014 concert by US-based medical expert Iva Fattorini who had come to Kochi to give a biennale-allied lecture about art as a medium of healing. “Ever since, we have ensured that we use art as a tool to rejuvenate as many people as possible,” adds Bony, also a noted cartoonist and writer.

Quite a few of the Art and Medicine editions have featured artists who are primarily into fields not directly allied to music. Today’s programme, too, was no exception. A chunk of the artists who performed at the General Hospital were those who routinely work at AIDS and cancer terminal care centres, destitute homes, rehabilitation centres for the differently-abled and mentally-challenged, or at job-training centres or slums. The congregation has 1,600 members spread across 57 dioceses in different parts of the world.

Today’s singers included Sisters of SD: Theresa, Rincy, Tessy, Lisja, Jima, Dr Jyothish, Niya Sanoob, Gouri Prasad, Amrutha, Rose Edwin, Amalia, Agnes Joji and Liz Mariya Edwin, besides Jyothi, their music teacher. Together, they rendered 13 songs in English, Malayalam and Tamil. Karunayakanam and Kalithozhuthil were the numbers that respectively marked the beginning and conclusion of the concert led by the Sisters.

Also present were Mother Reesa, Provincial Superior, and Sr. Serena besides Sr Hitha, who works as the coordinator of the team. The fourth edition of KMB, being curated by eminent artist Anita Dube, begins on December 12. Featuring 94 artist projects in 10 venues of the city, the 108-day festival will conclude on March 29 next year.