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Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022: Taking a look at the art and unseen initiatives

The biennale's fifth edition, titled Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, features 200 works dispersed across Kochi, exploring conceptual underpinnings.

by Vatsala SethiPublished on : Dec 10, 2022 Updated on : Dec 13, 2022

The fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, much anticipated to return after a four-year sabbatical on December 12, 2022, was postponed a night before its opening. The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) managing team announced on their Instagram account that owing to several organisational and structural issues, exacerbated by the arrival of cyclone Mandous, the event would now commence on December 23, 2022. Student’s Biennale, some connected activities and conversations, however, are taking place as scheduled.

Emerging after a four-year-long hiatus, the 2022 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is speculated to be an immersive experience, featuring 90 artists and over 40 new commissions. The art biennale, which has over 200 installations dispersed throughout heritage sites and warehouses, recognises change—a recalibration of our lives post the pandemic—as they prepare for another decade. Titled Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, and curated by Singapore-based artist Shubigi Rao, it will be on display in the historic Aspinwall House, Pepper House, and Anand Warehouse of Fort Kochi until April 10, 2023.

“Returning after a gap of four years, the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale examines how we survive, through song, materiality, joy, humour, and through language, whether written, verbal, and oral. After the states of fear, trauma and uncertain limbo of the pandemic years, it may seem strange to call for joy. Where is this optimism?” questions Rao; stating that we can sense it more tangibly in the artistic and collective work of artists gathered for the biennale.

Aspinwall House, Kochi-Muziris Biennale | Kochi-Muziris Biennale | STIRworld
Aspinwall House, Kochi-Muziris Biennale Image: © Kochi Biennale Foundation

As a South Asian platform, the biennale team has prioritised sharing spaces, resources, and audiences with other platforms in their regions, as well as fostering the mobility of ideas and frameworks in an increasingly fragile and politically vulnerable world. Analysing the biennale's invitation programme, we observed that it brings together a diverse range of Asian and African exhibition formats. These include—Toxicity by the Lubumbashi Biennale, curated by Picha; How to Reappear: Through the Quivering Leaves of Independent Publishing III presented by Kayfa ta (Ala Younis and Maha Mammoun); Tangled Hierarchy II curated by Jitish Kallat presented by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art along with Jitish Kallat’s installation Covering Letter.

Installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012 by Subodh Gupta| Kochi-Muziris Biennale | STIRworld
Installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012 by Subodh Gupta Image: © Kochi-Muziris Biennale

This year the visual art biennale's collaborations with UNESCO and the Muziris Heritage Project, is represented by a variety of programmes along the Periyar River and in Fort Kochi. Moreover, the DBF-KMB Award is a multi-year exhibition and lecture series organised by the Hayward Gallery, the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF), and the Kochi Biennale Foundation. The Award will grant an emerging South Asian artist participating in the biennale, with an opportunity to present their first institutional solo show in the United Kingdom at Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space.

View at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Aspinwall House. | Kochi-Muziris Biennale | STIRworld
View at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Aspinwall House Image: © Kochi Biennale Foundation

Apart from collaborations with galleries and displaying world-class art, the biennale programme includes contributions from diverse perspectives and practices. Visitors will witness a discourse between the past and present curators of the Kochi Biennale 2022. Ek Jagah Apni by the Ektara Collective; Yeh Freedom Life! by Priya Sen; The Beginning of Anything by Maxime Fauconnier; The Sun Behind the Clouds and The Sweet Requiem by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam; Dhuin and Gamak Ghar by Achal Mishra; and a series of film screenings by Dharamshala Film Festival will be featured at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022. Visitors will also experience an hour of comedy and poetry as a part of the KBF public programming.

Installation view: Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 | Kochi-Muziris Biennale | STIRworld
Installation view: Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 Image: © BMW AG

It is interesting to note that the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) is "by the artists for the artists," intending to bring contemporary art and ideas from around the world to South Asia. The location in Fort Kochi is a tribute to the history of trade and cultural contamination in the region, as well as a means of re-establishing Kochi as a hub for global, cutting-edge contemporary art. For the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022, special cleaning efforts are also organised in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. The cleaning includes the removal of water hyacinths and weeds from the coastline and the construction of bio-toilets.

Large Scale Installation, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2014 | Kochi-Muziris Biennale | STIRworld
Large Scale Installation, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2014 Image: © BMW AG

Bose Krishnamachari, President KBF, notes that as every institution must, they are also constantly thinking about building a more agile, accommodative structure that can host a diversity of people and practices across various formats. They have always wanted to extend themselves beyond the exhibition format to become a space of thought, sharing, mediation, and knowledge production. Marking a decade of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale this year, the founders also understand that it is time for serious reflection—learning from mistakes, accepting weaknesses, and continuing to work in and with the present.

On the delay

As the biennale turns ten, the team must take time for deep reflection—to learn from the past, acknowledge the failures and continue working in and with the present as they celebrate.

The sudden delay in the Biennale’s opening by 11 days is not just a hard hit on the workers but also impacts the visitors. It affects the artists installing the works, the labour working on hourly wages, itineraries for art collectors, and more. Kochi Biennale was scheduled to open during the art week at MAP Bangalore and comparatively failed to keep up with its deadlines. On the other hand, the India Art Fair fairly managed itself well with private sponsorships post the COVID-19 situation liberation in 2022. One may wonder whether the long delay would result in low footfall. Could the KBF team have planned the event better with cyclone research, preparations, and mismanagement? Do we have a duty to display ourselves in the best possible, timely manner when we represent the already struggling Indian art community that needs dedicated support? Is it the abrupt shift in the biennale's theme, as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale has historically focused on site-specific arts, and now artists have suddenly shifted to virtual media installation pieces, which is extremely difficult? We anticipate the conclusion as we await the artistic and communal effort of the biennale's artists.

Full artist list for In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire:

Ali Cherri (Lebanon/ France),
Allan Sekula (USA),
Alper Aydın (Turkey),
Amar Kanwar (India),
Amol K Patil (India),
Ana Hoffner (Austria),
Anju Acharya (India),
Anne Samat (Malaysia),
Archana Hande (India),
Arpita Singh (India),
Asim Waqif (India),
Basma Alsharif (Palestine/ Germany),
Biju Ibrahim (India),
CAMP (India),
Cecilia Vicuña (USA/ Chile),
Charles Chulem Rousseau (Guadalupe),
Christine Sun Kim (USA),
Claudia Martínez Garay (Peru/Netherlands),
Colectivo Ayllu/ Migrantes Transgresorxs (Spain),
Debbie Ding (Singapore),
Decolonizing Architecture (DAAR) (Palestine),
Devi Seetharam (India),
DISNOVATION.ORG (France/ Poland/Canada),
Elle Márjá Eira (Sapmi/Norway),
Forensic Architecture (United Kingdom),
Gabriela Löffel (Switzerland),
Gabrielle Goliath (South Africa),
Haegue Yang (Germany/ South Korea),
Hilde Skancke Pedersen (Sapmi/Norway),
Homai Vyarawalla (India),
Iman Issa (Egypt/ USA),
Ishan Tankha (India),
Jackie Karuti (Kenya),
Jason Wee (Singapore),
Jean-François Boclé (Martinique Island),
Jithinlal NR (India),
Joan Jonas (USA),
Johannes Heldén (Sweden),
Joydeb Roaja (Bangladesh),
Jumana Manna (Palestine/Germany),
Ketaki Sarpotdar (India),
Lawrence Lek (United Kingdom),
Madiha Aijaz (Pakistan),
Marcos Ávila-Forero (France),
Martta Tuomaala (Finland),
Massinissa Selmani (Algeria/ France),
Mekh Limbu (Nepal),
Melati Suryodarmo (Indonesia),
Min Ma Maing (Myanmar),
Mithra Kamalam (India),
Myriam Omar Awadi (Reunion Island),
Nasreen Mohamedi (India),
Nathalie Muchamad (New Caledonia/Mayotte),
Neerja Kothari (India),
Nepal Picture Library (Nepal),
Philip Rizk (Egypt/ Germany),
Pio Abad and Frances Wadsworth Jones (United Kingdom),
Pranay Dutta (India),
Priya Sen (India),
Priyageetha Dia (Singapore),
Richard Bell (Australia),
Rita Khin (Myanmar),
Ruchika Negi and Amit Mahanti (India),
Sahil Naik (India),
Saju Kunhan (India),
Samson Young (Hong Kong),
Sandip Kuriakose (India/ USA),
Santhi EN (India),
Seher Shah (USA),
Shikh Sabbir Alam (Bangladesh),
Shreya Shukla (India),
Shwe Wutt Hmon (Myanmar),
Slavs and Tatars (Germany),
Smitha GS (India),
Susan Schuppli (Canada/ Switzerland/United Kingdom),
Tenzing Dakpa (India),
Thakor Patel (USA),
Thao-Nguyen Phan (Vietnam),
The Orbita Group (Latvia),
Treibor Mawlong (India),
U-ra-mi-li (India),
Uriel Orlow (Switzerland/ United Kingdom/ Portugal),
Vasudevan Akkitham (India),
Vasudha Kapadia (India),
Vivan Sundaram (India),
Ximena Garrido-Lecca (Mexico),
Yinka Shonibare (United Kingdom),
Yohei Imamura (Japan),
Zhanna Kadyrova (Ukraine),
Zina Saro-Wiwa (USA/ United Kingdom/Nigeria)

Read more on Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2022, which is on view till April 10, 2023, in Kerala, India.

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