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Kochi-Muziris Biennale to give State an arty kiss of life

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on December 10, 2014 Published on December 10, 2014

Artist Hew Locke puts up his installation at Aspinwall House for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014. VIPIN CHANDRAN

Kicking off on Friday, 108-day fest to celebrate art and history of Kerala





The only one of its kind in India, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB-2014), a two-yearly international contemporary arts exhibition, will open at multiple venues in the quaint, colonial, seaside town of Fort Kochi at noon on December 12.

About 100 artists from 30 countries are participating in this second edition of the biennale which will last for 108 days. Two rundown warehouses, used to store European companies’ spice stocks during the colonial era; a 17th century bungalow built by the Dutch East India Company; the Parade Ground where British, Portuguese and Dutch troops did their drills and the Vasco da Gama Square are among the exhibition venues.

They are located at a stone’s throw from the house in which da Gama, who heralded European colonialism in India, died and the church where he was interned for a few years before the remnants were shipped to Lisbon, Portugal. Fort Emmanuel, the first European fort at Kochi, from which Fort Kochi got its name, is close-by.

The first biennale (2012), which ran for more than three months starting from 12.12.2012, was a huge success in terms of viewer turnout, artists’ participation, and of course, controversies. It had generated enormous interest and curiosity in visual art, particularly installation art, across and beyond Kerala. The nearly half-a-million visitors to the event showed that there was mass appeal for visual arts and convinced art establishments there was space for biennales in India’s art world.

Maritime past

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s name and venues are all linked to Kochi’s heritage and Kerala’s history. By linking the biennale to the ancient port town of Muziris, the art start-up could conjure visions of a maritime past of Kochi. Muziris, historians say, was a key port on the Kerala coast which promoted extensive trade with the Roman Empire, Egypt and a host of other countries. Kerala’s first Christians, Muslims and Jews had all sailed in at Muziris, thus paving the way for the later harmonious existence of several religious communities in the tiny State.

The port, after hosting international trade for more than a millennium, is said to have been washed away in a 14th century flood in the Periyar river, which joins the Arabian Sea at Kochi. Though archaeologists are yet to find out its exact location, it is believed it was close to Kodungalloor, north of Kochi. While the 14th century flood wiped out Muziris, it also laid the foundation for another natural port-Kochi.

Old world charm

The tiny town of Fort Kochi that butts into the Arabian Sea has seen the rise and fall of Portuguese, Dutch, and British occupations. The town, with its colonial buildings and Chinese fishing nets, still holds an old world charm. Now, the biennale links the historical past and cultural heritage of the Kochi-Muziris region to international contemporary art scene.

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Published on December 10, 2014
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