India opened its doors to a unique assemblage of contemporary art from across the globe, as the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale began here today with special thrust on visitor interactions.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the 108-day event that exhibits 94 artists’ work in ten venues of this heritage city. After the next edition of the Biennale, there will be a Design Biennale Kochi,” the CM said, after lighting the lamp that symbolised a formal start to the festival which is the biggest of its kind in the Indian subcontinent.
Curated by eminent artist Anita Dube, the Biennale is the first anywhere in the world to have women totalling more than half of the participating artists. Based on the curatorial theme of ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’, it seeks to explore newer access to art practices amid seminars, workshops, lectures, cinema and performances before its conclusion on March 29 next year.
The CM, addressing the ceremony at Parade Ground in Fort Kochi after a 90-minute Chenda Melam orchestra of 180 artistes led by top drummer Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, recalled the August floods and landslides that ravaged Kerala ahead of the 2018 Biennale. “The government has been spearheading the rebuilding of the state, but we have not gone back on the grant for the event,” he added. “Art is necessary for man to be elevated from animal status.”
Vijayan said the efforts to find a permanent venue for the Biennale was gaining strength, noting that the previous edition (2016) of the event clocked a footfall of six lakh.
Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran spoke of a symbiotic relationship between the Biennale and the number of travellers arriving in the state. The Biennale boosts Kerala’s tourism, while the government has been aggressively promoting the art event abroad, he pointed out.
Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation that is organising the festival, that let this year’s Biennale act us the healer for the natural disaster the state witnessed in the month of August. “I thank each and every one present here,” he added.
Curator Dube noted that the Biennale seeks to blend pleasure with pedagogy. Reading out her curatorial note, ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’, she noted that the event is divided into two parts: one, the exhibits; and the other, the Pavilion, where anyone and everyone can become a curator. “I hope you all enjoy each work on display,” she added. “I hope these works also evoke questions in your mind.”
Entrepreneur M. A. Yusuff Ali, Chairman and Managing Director of Lulu Group, said his firm had donated Rs 3 crore to the Biennale. “It can only be a bigger amount next time,” he added.
Others who shared the dais included Members of Parliament Prof K V Thomas, M V Shreyams Kumar, MP, former minister M A Baby, Ernakulam District Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla, MLAs K J Maxi and John Fernandes besides civic body councillors civic body and trustees of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. Sunil V, Secretary of the Foundation, proposed thanks.
The ceremony was followed by a concert by Bangalore-based Indian Folk/fusion band Vasu Dixit Collective. Earlier in the day, the Biennale flag was hoisted at Aspinwall House, the main venue of the festival. After this, curator Dube took out the visitors for a walk around the exhibits, explaining their thematic suitability and artistic merit.
Later in the afternoon, two artists gave performances — both in Fort Kochi. Mexican Tania Candiani came up with her show at sea-facing Aspinwall, highlighting the way everyday sounds impact humans by converting a loom into a musical instrument. At MAP Project Space, Netherlands-based Rana Hamadeh’s 30-minute performance essayed the human rights violation happening across the world.
The event will be held across heritage venues in the twin towns of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, as well as in downtown Ernakulam. The venues, besides Aspinwall and MAP, are Durbar Hall (Ernakulam), Pepper House, Cabral Yard (site of the Biennale Pavilion), David Hall, Kashi Art Café, Kashi Town House, Anand Warehouse and TKM Warehouse.
Lucknow-born Dube, 60, who studied art criticism at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, conceived the Biennale following a year’s travel around the globe. The Biennale has a team of 20 ‘art mediators’ giving daily guided tours free of charge. The event also features four infra-projects by external curators in alignment with the broader curatorial theme.
Further, a Students’ Biennale features 200 student-artists of art schools from across India and parts of South Asia. There are more ancillary events: Let’s Talk series, presentations and discussions by artists and thinkers, Artists’ Cinema and music.
A programme called ‘Art by Children’ (ABC) aims to introduce people to art-making from a young age, while a two-month Graffiti Residency is on till December 20. In January 18 next year, select paintings, sculptures and installations of more than 40 artists will be auctioned in Kochi as part of the Foundation’s ARK (Art Rises for Kerala).