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Kochi Biennale 2018: The Vibrant Presence of Malayali artists

In Kochi
November 29, 2018

The upcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB 2018) will have seven Kerala artist projects, with one of them being the works of a late painter-sculptor who led a radical pan-Indian arts movement three decades ago.

An assemblage of masterpieces by renowned K P Krishnakumar (1958-89) will grace the fourth edition of the KMB beginning on December 12. The 108-day event overlaps with the 30th death anniversary of Kuttipuram-born Krishnakumar, who had led a ‘Radical Group’ that attempted an art revolution in the 1980s.

Anita Dube, who is curator of KMB 2018, was keenly associated with that famed Kerala-Baroda movement which denounced commodification of art and sought to forcefully address its political as well as aesthetic issues. “It seemed natural to me to have a fantastic group of Kerala-based artists in the Biennale. There is such great talent in the state,” says Lucknow-born Dube, who turned 60 this week and, an alumnus of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. “And of course, the majority of visitors are local.”

Dube recalls the “immense pleasure” she felt in meeting and talking with Kerala-based artists as part of her curatorial assignment ahead of KMB 2018. “Each of them is working with the utmost care and rigor for their projects. I can’t wait for people, whether local or international, to feel the power of their work,” she adds.

The fourth edition has 94 artist-projects being exhibited in ten venues till March 29 next year. For Krishnakumar, this is a second appearance: a sculpture of his was exhibited in the inaugural Biennale (2012) at Durbar Hall Gallery, Ernakulam.

The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), organising the festival, says the KMB has been nurturing both the aesthetics and infrastructure of contemporary arts in Kerala since the first edition. “This has meant developing strong bonds with young as well as established artists from the state,” notes Bose Krishnamachari, president of the 2011-founded organisation. “We foster a network of art institutions and provide talents a platform to showcase their work on an international platform.”

Among the Malayali artists this time is Satheesh P R. As a painter of landscapes, both urban and rural, Satheesh says his images are no mere representation of nature but interpretations of the world around him. “It’s only that landscapes are my chosen medium,” says the artist, a recipient of a research grant from the Lalit Kala Akademi and a national scholarship for young artists from the Union Ministry of Human Resources.

Vinu V V, a graduate in sculpture from the RLV College of Fine Arts at Thripunithura, often works around caste injustices and violence. “I don’t believe in posturing on taking positions,” he says. “My own birth in that traditionally marginalised community enables me to be familiar to the discrimination and deprivation we face.”

A fourth Malayali presence is Oorali, a music collective that travels around in a bus to engage various communities. Encouraging the audience to respond in whichever way one likes, Oorali performances are a combination of theatre, visuals, art and singing. They bring world music to the stage by singing in languages other than Malayalam and playing instruments such as the Cajon, the Wombo drum thumps of Latin America, the Djembe of West Africa and the Darbouka rings of the Mediterranean desert.

Among the younger lot, Vipin Dhanurdharan is a Kochi-based artist who has been associated with the Foundation since the first Biennale in various organisational capacities. “My assignments took me quite unexpectedly through the streets of Kochi,” he shrugs. “Almost unintentionally.”

Another Kerala artist is Santha K V, co-founder of TASARA of upstate Malabar. Dedicated to creative weaving, the 1989-founded centre based in coastal Beypore near Kozhikode endeavours to deliver a contemporary touch to this age-old art. “We bring together artists and weavers in an inspiring ambience,” says Santha. “It enables us to break through the limitations of our mediums.”

Aryakrishnan, who was a curator for the previous two editions of the Students’ Biennale, is a Malayali based in Delhi, where researches and works. A 2014 post-graduate in visual arts from Ambedkar University, the 35-year-old is creating an installation in the upcoming Biennale.

Experimental filmmaker-writer Mochu as well as artists Jitish Kallat, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, K P Jayasankar, and Veda Thozhur Kolleri are also participants of Kerala origin at KMB 2018.

KMB’s previous editions, too, have had their share of top Kerala artists. They include Alex Mathew, Reghunandhan K, Gigi Scaria, K P Reji, Jyothi Basu, Prabhakaran K, Ratheesh T, Sosa Joseph, Upendranath T R, Madhusudhanan, K M Vasudevan Namboodiri, Punaloor Rajan, Bara Bhaskaran, C Bhagyanath, K R Sunil, P K Sadanandan, T V Santhosh and Tony Joseph, amongst others.