The Kochi Muziris Biennale — India’s most ambitious contemporary art festival — is back. Returning after three difficult pandemic years, the canvas of the cultural fiesta, which started in 2012 as a project of the cultural affairs department of the Kerala Government seems to have grown bigger.

The event, which was supposed to kick off on the 12th but has now been postponed to the 23rd citing organisational challenges, will see an explosion of art, music, poetry, films, and storytelling around the galleries, warehouses, and heritage properties in Fort Kochi, Mattancherry area.

The central exhibition ‘In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire’ curated by Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao features 90 artists and 40 new commissions at the historic Aspinwall House.

But the scope of the Biennale project is now far vaster than the physical spaces it exhibits around. “There are now ten verticals to the Kochi Biennale Foundation,” says artist-curator Bose Krishnamachi who together with Riyas Komu founded the non-profit organisation, which runs the Biennale. There is the Students Biennale, the healing Art for Medicine, and also the ambitious Art By Children (ABC) programme that spreads art education in a disruptive way.

Art educator, Blaise Joseph, who heads the ABC programme describes how the core of the artroom project is to instill art in a non-competitive, non-judgemental way among children and the community at large.

This year the art intervention is being done in two government schools –GVHSS Njarakkal and GVHSS Kadamakkudi – funded by Faizal and Shabana Foundation.

The only condition we set to the schools is that they should have a room dedicated to art and a minimum of one and half-hour session per batch should be set aside thrice a week, says Joseph.

This year, says Joseph, he has made a list of 45 artists who will come and facilitate art workshops at the ABC programme.

Unlike conventional art education that has a structured curriculum, the ABC project is free flowing and the subjects are completely drawn from the local ethos of the children. During the pandemic, for instance, when the classes were held virtually, and parents were part of the creative process, food memories were invoked. Subjects could be interpretations from the daily life.

The art facilitators do not make any distinctions among students on the quality of art. “We believe that every single person has art in them. ABC seeks to unleash the inner artist in us,” says Joseph.

In the last edition, seven schools were part of the programme. Joseph says three more schools might be added to the programme this year. All the work from the past is secured. There is an idea of doing a travelling exhibition with these works in schools around the country.

The scope of the ABC canvas certainly has vast potential.