Swiss couple Maya Hottarek and Louis Werder didn’t know there was street art in India when they arrived in Fort Kochi. Two weeks later, they have completed a painting on the wall of the Pepper House in Fort Kochi, one of the venues for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale that will begin on Wednesday.

Werder, who started painting 14 years ago as a graffiti artist, and Hottarek, a poly design specialist who did wall paintings, were on holiday in Fort Kochi when they stumbled upon the Biennale. They were surprised when they saw a wall here painted with sea serpents and mechanised boats. The duo from Piel City, about 150 km from Geneva, decided they wanted to paint here too.

Soon, they were in the office of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation asking if they could paint a wall. “It was an interesting request from this young couple, who arrived as travellers but wanted to become a part of the town,” said Riyas Komu, artist and co-curator of India’s first Biennale in Fort Kochi and Muziris, 30 km away. “We had already made street art part of the show. It would be the first time street art would be becoming a vital part of a major art show in India,” Komu said in a press release issued here.

The Biennale will feature the works of 10 street artists around Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. Hottarek and her boyfriend first painted a wall that already had the first street art of the biennale, done a few days earlier by Delhi-based artist Anpu Varkey. The Swiss artists painted a brain and heart in pink united by veins.

Later, the Biennale office told them they could do a second work, this time at an official Biennale venue. “It was a huge honour for us to become a part of such a big event ,” said Werder. They painted a brain monster picking up trash at Pepper House, a warehouse for spice trade during the British Raj. “It is a critique of capitalism and the huge waste it creates,” said Werder.

Biennale’s street art has captured the imagination of other foreign tourists as well. An Australian tourist has painted a portrait on a roadside wall in the heritage town. The work of Daniel Connolly near a fruit shop is a tribute to his friend back home. Titled ‘Look Back’, the street art description on the side of the portrait says, “Maybe 60-80,000 years ago people from this area we are standing on moved to Australia. Their descendants are the original Australians. This is a portrait of one of them,” the description says, about Connolly’s friend from South Australia.


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