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Un-silenced at Kochi Biennale – Part III

Of instilling hope, and invoking insightful discussions
The artists offered a state of hope, a promise of better things to come, and instilled deep thoughts in the minds of visitors with their works at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

by Sukanya Garg Aug 14, 2019

All was not dreary or reflective of the looming end at the Kochi Biennale. There were those among the artists who not only presented hope as something to be aspired towards, but also that which exists all around us among those who often go unseen and unheard. It is time, we pay attention!

On view at the Hangar in Aspinwall House, Vietnamese artist Jun Ngyuyen-Hatsushiba’s work Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam: Towards the Complex — For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards was one such film. The Vietnamese government’s attempt to phase out rickshaws was the underlying theme of the piece, which commented on how people from certain socio-economic classes have to bear the brunt of the changes that are brought in the name of modernisation and growth. Screened in a warehouse filled with shin-deep water, the video acquired a new dimension when viewed through the lens of the recently transpired Kerala floods. The images of Malayali fishermen pulling rickshaws underwater amid the havoc, even still, infused a renewed hope in the sense of community, circling back to Biennale’s curator Anita Dube’s original emphasis on comradeship being instrumental to survive the marginalisation that is all-pervading in the present world order.

Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam - Towards the Complex — For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards, Jun Ngyuyen-Hatsushiba, film, 2001| Kochi Muziris Biennale| STIR
Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam - Towards the Complex - For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards, Jun Ngyuyen-Hatsushiba, film, 2001 Image Credit: Courtesy of Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Veer Munshi’s work Relics from a Lost Paradise, as part of the Srinagar Biennale, displayed at TKM Warehouse in Mattancherry, was another such work that aimed to preserve corners, shrines of hope, amid all the despair. In his work, one was confronted with the sight of baby coffins, a reminder of the death and displacement that is an everyday reality of conflict-ridden Kashmir. However, their placement inside a Sufi shrine titled A Place for Repose offered a symbol of resilience and the importance of preserving what can and should be saved. Art, for Munshi, offers an instrument for preserving stories of the deceased, the lessons of history, and a means to move on.

Relics from Lost Paradise, Veer Munshi, mixed media, 2017| Kochi Muziris Biennale| STIR
Relics from Lost Paradise, Veer Munshi, mixed media, 2017 Image Credit: Courtesy of Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Afrah Sahfiq chose to move on through the fairy-tale approach, creating an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kind of immersive space, where she explored the relationship between women in history and books. Screening a multimedia story with five chapters the viewer could choose from, her work Sultana’s Reality showcased the stories of Indian women who have continually challenged societal conventions. A combination of art, text and multimedia, the dark room with neon-lights created an alternate universe, where the viewer could finally belong.

  • Sultana's Reality, Afrah Shafiq, Installation view 1| Kochi Muziris Biennale| STIR
    Sultana's Reality, Afrah Shafiq, Installation view 1 Image Credit: Courtesy of Kochi-Muziris Biennale
  • Sultana's Reality, Afrah Shafiq, Installation view 2| Kochi Muziris Biennale| STIR
    Sultana's Reality, Afrah Shafiq, Installation view 2 Image Credit: Courtesy of Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Chinese artist Song Dong’s Water Temple was a space where artist or not, everyone could belong. A glass structure where one could paint and write stories with water that subsequently evaporated into the air, his work was a meditation on the impermanence of all objects and relationships. The artist has been writing diaries with water on stone since 1995. What started as a ritual to practice handwriting without wasting paper and ink, over time became therapeutic. In the context of the Biennale then, water acquired a new meaning where it did not just carry the memory of the floods, but was also capable of healing and providing therapy. It reflects on the fleeting nature of all conflict and chaos, reminding us that there is always tomorrow lending us the opportunity for a fresh start. 

Water Temple, Song Dong, 2018, Installation view 2| Kochi Muziris Biennale| STIR
Water Temple, Song Dong, 2018, Installation view 2 Image Credit: Courtesy of Kochi-Muziris Biennale

By offering a space to voices that have been silenced and ignored till now, Dube’s Biennale was a step closer towards creating inclusivity, offering a fresh perspective to the art world to look beyond the cherry on the cake.

This story is preceded by Un-silenced at the Kochi Biennale – Part I (The Clothesline by Monica Mayer) and Un-silenced at the Kochi Biennale – Part III(Of instilling hope, and invoking insightful discussions.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased at multiple exhibitions.

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