by Dilpreet BhullarJan 29, 2023
It takes a village to bring up a child. What about a biennale? It is most certainly an enormous community coming together to make it happen. Artists and their galleries, curators and journalists, sponsors and the state, students and volunteers, and a host of collateral/satellite/parallel events to support the festival. Equally, if not more, the enthusiasm of visitors and art lovers. What is art without its viewers, after all.
Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s decision to push out its opening a night before the scheduled date has received criticism. Could this have been predicted somewhat earlier, saving people the hassle and expense? The biggest critique is to not have given people an opportunity to make a decision to themselves cancel or postpone their visits. Despite that it was heartening to hear from the curator, Shubigi Rao, on how the the artist community that is part of the biennale supports opening it together on the rescheduled date, and not in piecemeal.
The three venues of the Kochi Biennale 2022 - Aspinwall House, Pepper House, and Anand Warehouse - are at varied stages of preparation. However, the works that are up have been covered and the latest development is to shut all the venues for public access. At a conclave held on December 13, Rao reiterated that artists have decided to not allow showing of the few works displayed in the interest of a collective action and presentation. She added that she stands by this decision.
But all is not lost! Here is a selection of what is up and ready to receive the audience.
Students’ Biennale in Jew Town
Spread across four locations in the Mattancherry area of Fort Kochi in Kerala, this year the Students’ Biennale has been co-curated by seven young curators. It includes 62 projects from contemporary artists that have pushed the boundaries to respond to pressing and immediate issues of our times.
The projects include site-specific art installations, digital art, and ephemeral works of Indian craftsmanship. The students have relentlessly burnt the midnight oil to put up the show. Most of them belong to the recently graduated batches, who got their degrees through virtual learning owing to the global pandemic. As a result, they seem to have grabbed this opportunity to physically be with peers to create contemporary art. It’s a must see!
Invitations at TKM Warehouse
Seven projects are presented at the TKM Warehouse compound, just further ahead to the Jew Town in Kochi. I confess, walking down the streets that house shops of coveted traditional artefacts and collectibles can be distracting!
Contemporary artist Jitish Kallat has presented his immersive art, Covering Letter, with support from the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA). Ascending text of a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler is projected on a descending mist, and the audience is encouraged to walk through it. Right next door is an exhibit, presented by KNMA and also curated by Kallat, titled Tangled Hierarchy 2. Spread over two floors, the show uses multidisciplinary works from the art museum collection.
South African artist, William Kentridge, is showing a video projection titled Oh To Believe in Another World. In this five-channel immersive work, Kentridge responds to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10. The installation lends its evocative title – referencing utopia, our wish for it and the shadow it always casts.
Chennai Photo Biennale has a large intervention of photo-based works, Communities of Choice. Who am I? Where do I belong? Do I belong to a community? Do I belong to many? These are a few underlying questions that are posed through the exhibition. Selected via an open-call, the featured projects are a constellation of layered explorations of the notion of community.
And finally, I found Bhumi - presented by Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) - to be one of the most intriguing shows of this section. It was brought together by artisans in the village of Balia in Thakurgaon during the COVID pandemic. Using local resources, traditional craftsmanship, and expressing the idea of community, Bhumi encourages the viewers to intimately experience the emotion of togetherness.
Emami Art is hosting two shows at the Mocha Art Cafe. A truncated version of the recently concluded solo show of Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam, Singed But Not Burnt, curated by Ina Puri.
Alongside runs Anatomy of Vegetable – Ruminations of Fragile Ecosystem by the West Bengal-based artist Prasanta Sahu. His playful plaster cast of vegetables explore everyday rural life through objects, memories and desires intertwined with an undeniable bio-political matrix. Sahu actively engages with the politics of representation and truths hidden from mainstream discourse.
David Hall has been transformed by Scottish artist Jim Lambie. Supported by Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Lambie pasted colourful vinyl on the floor of this old Dutch bungalow with straight line, repetitive geometric pattern, in response to the architectural layout of the floor. The dreamscape tapestry is vibrating and pulsating, confusing and disorienting, all at once.
Talks and book launches
At Mocha Art Café, gallery Chemould Prescott Road held a panel discussion on its recent publication titled, Citizen Gallery. Contemporary artist Shilpa Gupta launched her book titled In your tongue, I cannot fit; and the TAKE on Art magazine is unveiling its latest issue on the theme of Memory in Making, alongside a panel discussion moderated by Manuela Ciotti at Cochin Club.
Photographer Dayanita Singh launched her book titled Dancing with my Camera. Singh is also showcasing her latest collectible, Studio Box, at the Malabar House in Fort Kochi area. Bani Abidi’s book titled The Artist Who was launched followed by a virtual conversation at the Cochin Club.
The above list is not meant to be comprehensive. Please check venue details and timing before planning your visits.
Read more on Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022, which is on view till April 10, 2023, in Kerala, India.