Kochi, Aug 8:
The narrative and aesthetics of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2016 may evolve to include the global sensitivities in contemporary art, but the core spirit of the country’s lone art biennale invoking Kochi’s latent cosmopolitan spirit and multicultural history will remain unchanged.
Three weeks after the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) announced its curator for the upcoming (2016) edition biennale, speakers at a panel discussion in Mumbai shared their vision of the exposition in the context of India acquiring legitimacy as a exhibition and innovation destination on the global amps of art capitals on par with countries like Shanghai, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Dubai in Asia— not to mention the western meccas like Venice, Basel, Miami and Berlin.
Friday’s discussion began on a nostalgic note with co-curators Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu walking down the memory lane of the biennale in 2012 — when the Kerala government opened the ancient Jewish settlement at Fort Kochi and the port city of Muziris to facilitate an ambitious medley of art and heritage. The concept was more site-specific rather than exhibitions of art curated in closed spaces. The result was a integrated panorama of visual aesthetics that accounted for the history of the venue, its regeneration for sustainable use and economic triggers which helped ramp up tourism in the sea-resort by drawing new segments of cultural tourists. Government statistics cited the total number of footfalls logged more than 900,000 across the two biennales.
The founder-curators were joined in their reminiscences by two eminent artists and curators Jitish Kallat and Sudarshan Shetty— for 2014 and 2016 respectively — who expounded about the continuum of the biennale – and how it has retained the “quality of being in the opposition”.
“Since then, the effort has been to strengthen contemporary art infrastructure and to broaden public access to art in India,” Shetty told a packed gathering at the National Gallery of Modern Art. “We have also been engaged in exchange programmes and residencies by bringing many collaborations.”
Komu pointed out that the biennale has been a strong platform that introduces contemporary international visual art theory and practice to India, showcase and debates on new Indian and international aesthetics besides art experiences so as to enable a dialogue among artists, curators and the people.Reaffirming the biennale’s original mission as a “People’s Biennale” to create a new language of cosmopolitanism and modernity rooted in the lived and living experience of Kochi as an old trading port, he said the coastal city has for more than six centuries been a crucible of numerous communal identities — each assimilating from the other and overlapping at the same time to become the first “true” melting pot of the west and the Orient.
“Kochi is among the few cities in India where pre-colonial traditions of cultural pluralism continue to flourish. These traditions pre-date the post-Enlightenment ideas of cultural pluralism, globalisation and multiculturalism,” Jitish Kallat, the curator of the 2014 biennale, pointed out. In fact, the notion of rainbow as a culture of synthesis can be traced to Muziris, the ancient city that was buried under layers of mud and mythology after a massive flood in the 14th century wiping out the landing boards of the first wave of the Jewish settlers, the early Christians and East India Company imperialists.
Jitish Kallat said the biennale has been a success story in India—more so considering that it is only two editions old. Kallat pointed out that the KMB’14 that he had curated was “not just about Kochi but from Kochi”, adding how he had included his “deep interest in cosmology to the curatorial note”. Indeed, “the biennale’s fragility has been its strength”.
Shetty, who has just initiated conversations with potential artists for 2016 edition, said detailed research and conversations are underway with people from different disciplines in an attempt to bridge tradition and contemporaneity— suggesting that even in 2016, Kochi will carry on with its core spirit of supporting local heritage with cultural interfaces across demographies, races, social realities and histories that make the soul of post-modern art.
Kochi has finally found its place on the art trails of the global cognoscenti- the curators refrained. .