Beyond the margins at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018

As the three-month-long curated exposition of contemporary art, the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018, comes to a close, on March 29, there’s once again a frisson of activities around its wrap-up. In its fourth edition it brought, as before, the world of art to the city and encouraged holidayers route their visit through the festival. Travellers came in droves taking the footfalls to a new high, albeit a small increase, from the previous edition.

Beyond the margins at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018

A kindly Whatsapp from Bose Krishnamachari, co-founder, urged those yet to see the fest, to make it before the passage of another two years for the staging of a multitudinous show of this proportion and intensity.

Experiential travel outfitter Maneesha Panicker, an art connoisseur and a native of Kochi, has created a tailor-made Biennale ending tour, “Art and things you heart.” She says, With just a few weeks left in the festival, this truly is a now-or-never time to visit Fort Kochi.

She’s mapped the festival well. Along with art gazing, a glimpse of some of the finest works of art like ‘Metropolis’ by Lubna Chowdhary, ‘A Place Beyond Belief’ by Nathan Coley, ‘String Loom’, and a few hidden gems, she adds experiences unique to the culturally rich area that’s populated by over 30 different communities. So sampling of a bread-cake brought in by the Dutch, sweet treats and spiced chai of the Gujaratis, attending kutcheris of the Tamil Brahmins, a stop over for a practice session by a troupe that plays covers of old Hindi and Malayalam songs and a visit to the posh design stores that have the best of international and Indian designers are included in the Biennale visit.

With many firsts to its credit—first woman curator, a line up with more than 50 % of the works by women, an expanded Student’s Art Programme and a curation that laid accent on marginalised voices, the edition has been singular in many ways than one.

Beyond the margins at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018

A marked singularity was the absence of spectacular visual works, which in earlier editions made a quick and direct connect with viewers.

Gautam Das, Assistant Director, Programmes, KMB, says, “the ‘instagrammability’ of this Biennale was low, but it was very much intended to be that way. Anita Dube’s curatorial vision of Possibilities of a non-alienated life was about establishing a real personal connect with a work rather than a virtual connect. The spaces were used to forefront marginalised voices.”

Hence Aryakrishnan Ramakrishnan’s ‘Sweet Maria Monument’ an intervention in the existing discourses on art and politics became a holy grail of sorts. Gee Semmalar and Raju Rage and Arya staged the impossibility of a performance about trans lives. Lorene Bouboushian a genderqueer artist reflected on cannibalised identities and broken (queer/creative) community.

A tea ceremony by artist Bryan Mulvihill where he offered tea to the spirit of Maria and a conversation between three activists on every day caste and queerness catapulted the Biennale as one which trained the spotlight on the lesser heard voices.

A powerful fallout was the citation of works from the Biennale at other forums. Works were quoted and represented at a conclave at Chennai and poetry read at events elsewhere. “One can’t measure these responses but it is powerful to say the least,” says Das.

Another impact, he points out, was the concerted response from schools and government bodies at district and panchayat level in Kerala. Many schools from Palakakad undertook tours coordinated by the government. The Biennale facilitated it by providing guides and also threw in hands-on workshops. With ‘Making As Thinking’ the tag line for the student’s programmes, the Biennale saw a new kind of involvement.

Beyond the margins at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018

Bose reiterates the sentiment pointing to the increase in the number of visitations made by international museum curators—Maria Baleshaw of Tate Modern, Boon Hui Tan of Asia Society, New York, Jeffery Deitch Los Angeles Museums—implying that the Kochi Biennale’s long lasting impact is on sensitising individuals to social and political issues.

“So many new art spaces, galleries of great quality have sprung up, piggy back riding on the strength of the Biennale. This is an important development,” he says.

Its role as a platform of exchange, facilitating buyers, sellers, and moderators cannot be overlooked.

Noticing the all-round impact the Biennale has had on the area’s hotels, stores, small shopkeepers, taxis, autos and such, the Indian Chamber of Commerce held an interactive session. Riaz Ahmed MD Abad Group of Hotels said, “There’s been a 40 % increase in business due to the Biennale”.

In a fitting finale, contemporary folk-reggae band Oorali, which has adopted a conversational style of singing and performance, will sum up the spirit of this Biennale with their unique musical idiom that’s not only inclusive but in this instance, but has soaked in the experiences of the fishermen who played a key role in saving the flood-affected.

It will be two more years before the city gets the next art Biennale in 2020.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 11:46:00 PM |

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