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Kochi-Muziris Biennale is here to stay

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on March 12, 2018

One of the projects exhibited at the Kochi Biennale BIJOY BHARATHAN

India’s first biennial arts extravaganza closes with the promise of more in store in 2016





After being on show for 108 days, and promising to be back in two years, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the country’s first contemporary arts festival in the biennial format, has closed its second episode.

With the success of the two episodes, the biennale has come to stay. “The third edition will most likely begin on 12.12. 2016,” Bonnie Thomas, treasurer of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, told BusinessLine. “Of course, we have not made a final decision on the dates.” The figure 12/12 is something like a theme date for the biennale, whose first edition opened on 12.12.2012.

Half a million people, from globally reputed artists to schoolchildren, visited the biennale. Though a large number of them could not make sense of the artworks, the biennale turned out to be their first introduction to the world of contemporary art, especially installation art.

A total of 100 works by 94 artists from 30 countries put their works on show, drawing comments as varied as great, ridiculous, fantastic and bizarre from uninitiated admirers. Just for comparison: the 2013 edition of the Venice biennale, the world’s most reputed, had 150 artists from 88 countries; but only 4.75 lakh people visited it – fewer than those that showed up for the Kochi biennale.

Wide, wild imagination

At a time when individual freedoms are shrinking and moral policing is expanding across the country, the unlimited creative freedom enjoyed by the artists at the biennale was envied by many visitors. The wide variety of media – metal, stone, paper, video, light and shadows, lit electric bulbs, audio and the wild imagination excited even the casual visitor. Among the works was this wonderful video in which Chinese stone-carvers make a huge pillar out of a rough stone on a cargo ship during the voyage from a Chinese port to a European port over a few weeks. A block of stone when its starts the voyage, and a finished pillar when it reaches the other shore – a metaphor for the new globalised economy, and life.

The biennale, with its throwback on the legacy of the ancient port of Muziris in central Kerala, highlighted works that retold the region’s myths and realties.

“I didn’t understand a thing, but I enjoyed the biennale,” was a common refrain of the ordinary visitors. A series of events that were held as part of the biennale such as a 100-day film festival, a literary festival, performing arts and children’s biennale all added to that fervour. The heritage location and the quaint venues contributed to the exotic value of the biennale for the visitors. It was held at eight venues at Fort Kochi, a former colonial coastal town which had for centuries been occupied by four European powers. Some of the venues were dilapidated European warehouses by the Arabian Sea.

The Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat curated the show, while Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachary, well-known artists and founders of the biennale, worked full time to make the event a success. A number of individual and corporate donors and art aficionados footed the bill for the show.





Published on March 31, 2015

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