As a raging debate over the Kochi-Muziris Biennale sweeps the State, a chunk of the city’s celebrities is blissfully unaware of the storm kicked up by the latest round of controversy about the use of public funds by the Kochi Biennale Foundation. Worse, a vast majority of them — mostly film personalities — is completely in the dark about the existence of the entity, which is working in the city for over a year now to organise a colossal global visual art event lasting three months from December 12.
“Biennale! I’m sorry I’ve not heard that word before,” exclaimed a young high-flying playback singer when The Hindu asked her opinion on the contemporary art show.
The response of half a dozen cine stars, a couple of writers, some socialites and a few prominent entrepreneurs to the query was more or less on similar lines. Many chose to parry it with excuses of being tied down with shooting, with little time to track daily news. A thinking actor-turned-scriptwriter and director bounced it back to this correspondent. “It appears that the project is ambitious, lofty and pertinent for a city like Kochi, but if someone like Kanayi Kunhiraman, a genuine artist, is opposing it, there must be a reason.”
What became apparent from conversations with the city’s who’s who is that there is still a lingering, perhaps relative dearth of clarity on the conceptual, artistic framework and magnitude of the biennale. Sebastian Paul, former MP and media critic, addressed the issue head on.
“The Kerala society demands credibility and transparency on the part of anyone coming up with such projects. Just as it wants E. Sreedharan to spearhead the Kochi Metro project, it would probably look up to some reputed artists from then State to lead an event of this scale. Naturally, they are apprehensive about the project being executed by two expat Malayali artists. The biennale, as I’ve understood it, has the potential to turn the city around, but the organisers have failed, in the first place, to sensitise the public to its advantages. Further, they never really seemed to have attempted to rope in Kerala’s veteran artists to be part of it,” he summed up.
Veteran artist and former Kerala Lalithakala Academy Chairman C.N. Karunakarn exuded optimism, terming the forthcoming event a golden opportunity for the State to have a cultural exchange with the contemporary international art world. Theatre personality Prof. Chandradasan harbours a liking for the concept of biennale, as it would catalyse fine arts, even commercial arts, in Kochi with the business-driven economy. “But the question is how biennale is going to express itself. Its success will depend heavily on the strength of its connect with Kochi’s life, issues, concerns and arts,” he said.
For Maneesha Panicker, owner of a city-based international travel company operating between India and the US, biennale would place Kochi on the global map. “With top-notch artists trooping down to the city, the engagement will have larger dimensions, prompting people to weigh art and art history as career options. Such an event is best executed in the PPP model, with artists enjoying the freedom to handpick global participants,” she observed.
The biennale coincides with the Cochin Carnival, which will be under way from December 9 to January 1.