The world over, biennales are known by the cities that host them, a trend set off by Venice when it held the world’s maiden biennale in 1895.
On Wednesday, the coastal city of Kochi joined the ivy-league by positioning itself as India’s first true-blue ‘Biennale City’ when the Kochi-Muziris Biennale was kicked off at a high-voltage ceremony at Fort Kochi, a cultural melting pot, by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
For three months from now, the global art world would portray itself across 14 venues and over 60 exhibition spaces in Fort Kochi, Mattancherry and the erstwhile Muziris area, some 30 km north of it. Over 80 artists from 23 countries are taking part in the grand art carnival.
The coastal township is already a beehive of activity with street art, giant installations, paintings, sculptures and multimedia works of art dotting its bylines and at over three lakh sq ft of structured exhibition spaces (abandoned godowns turned around for the purpose).
The event, a watershed in the cultural history of the country, would pave the way for a whole new discourse and aesthetics on contemporary art, politics and society through its multifarious look at issues facing mankind. “Art is no longer for its own sake. Contemporary art effaces the lines dividing the high and the low, and shows anyone could become an artist,” said Mr. Chandy at the inaugural.
Culture Minister K.C. Joseph; Tourism Minister A.P. Anil Kumar; Excise Minister K. Babu; Kochi Mayor Tony Chammany; auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan; art-administrator and artist Balan Nambiar; the former Minister M.A. Baby, who was instrumental in conceiving the idea, and a galaxy of noted figures were present to see India’s debut biennale getting under way. On Wednesday morning, Kochi Biennale Foundation president Bose Krishnamachari and secretary Riyas Komu, also curators of the show, hoisted the biennale flag atop a cluster of bamboo poles on the lawns of Aspinwall House as the biennale artists stood witness.
A host of distinctive events like a ‘panchavadyam’ percussion ensemble on the Parade Grounds as the day petered out made the inaugural day memorable. Uniquely, the Kochi Muziris Biennale features a blend of traditional and folk Indian art and contemporary modern art.
A ‘Kaikotti Pattu’ performance and a ‘Sopanasangeetham’ recital lent a dash of local colour to the day’s proceedings. A minute’s silence was observed as a mark of respect to Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who died early in the day. The evening’s festivities began with a resonant panchavadyam ensemble drummed up by Chottanikkara Subhash Marar on the timila and team of over 30 artistes showcasing their mastery over the maddalam, kompu, ilathalam and idakka. From the traditional, there was a quantum leap to the modern when visual artist and rapper M.I.A put up an electric concert in tune with the percussion ensemble led by drummer Panamanna Sasi.