The city bid farewell to the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on Sunday evening. For those working behind the scenes of the three-month event, however, it is not yet time to relax.
“Everyone’s coming up and congratulating us. But the real work is just beginning,” says Shwetal Patel, executive officer of the Biennale.
“We need to do an audit of the event. We have to look at the impact it has created and work on a road map for the future.” Carrying the Biennale forward and cementing its place in the global art world is what Mr. Patel and the Biennale team is working for now. “But first, we need a break,” says Mr. Patel with a sigh.
The core team that put together the three-month contemporary art show has been working almost round-the-clock for the last seven months.
“That was when the artists started coming in. They were staying here and we took them around so they could learn about the city,” says Mr. Patel, who has been working with the Biennale since its conception in 2010.
‘An unorthodox career’
“I first met Bose [Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Biennale Foundation] in London,” says the 33-year-old artist brought up in Zambia and the U.K. “Bose was known as this guy who always helped a lot of people.
He was very encouraging.” Mr. Patel had dabbled in film, music, fashion design and even curating art shows. “I had an unorthodox career. But even when I was not professionally working in art, I would always go to art shows and be a part of the cutting-edge art.” When several artists got together to give India its first biennial,
Mr. Patel was part of the core team that took the idea forward. The project ran into controversy right at the start. “We were being accused of many things unfairly. It was malicious. They were accusing us of corruption simply because they disagreed with us strongly.” Controversy, however, did not stop them from going ahead with the project.
The team was always clear that the Biennale had to be more than just an art exhibition. “We have an abundance of art in this country. But what have we done with all that? We have to use all that we have and make something out of it. Our contribution is the idea that we can use technology, our youth and togetherness to make something out of it,” says Mr. Patel, who gave up a high-paying job in Europe to be part of the Biennale.
Art for a purpose
They also aimed at using art to engage people in a conversation about culture and the course of development. Mr. Patel gives the example of one of the works exhibited at the Biennale – Amar Kanwar’s ‘The Sovereign Forest,’ which threw light on indigenous varieties of rice that had disappeared from the country. “Rice is the staple diet in Kerala. But do we know how many varieties of rice have disappeared here?”
The team’s effort now is to make sure that the future editions of the biennale carry forward this commitment. “It is a great responsibility. You had almost 4 lakh people coming here to see something they had never seen before,” he says.
“We hope that we have started an art movement. It’s more than just a biennale. We hope that people in other parts of the country will do similar projects too. That’s the dream. Then I will feel that we have achieved something,” he says.
Keywords: Kochi-Muziris Biennale