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one art<br>one language<br>one love

one art
one language
one love

Kochi-Muziris Biennale 12-12-12 
BY KANCHI MEHTA
 
 
It has been a very long time since India witnessed an event of this nature, to the point where one would say, “It was about time!” 
 
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which opened on 12-12-2012 in the city of Kochi in Kerala, India, is, no doubt, the third attempt at a biennale in the country, with a promise of continuity and longevity in the future.
 
One week before the opening, there was a drone of heterogeneous excitement and anticipation within the art fraternity. Patrons of art, artists, collectors, critics, curators, and friends flew in from various parts of the world to support the event as a milestone in Indian art.
 
This was definitely not without controversy, as the organizing committee faced charges of improper utilization of funds and the government blew hot and cold air on supporting the Biennale.
 
It was the courage of a few people who still decided to go ahead with it, who believed in it.
 
The fact is that many works were yet in the process of installation, or still being brought in; some had not even arrived at the venue yet. This was taken in with shock and disappointment to experience on the day of the opening of an International Biennale. 
 
Many of the guests left Kochi, unable to experience most of the works of established, as well as young artists. However, there are many layers to this happening, and least of all; the intention of the organizers. 
 
But the fact still remains, that a biennale is a public event, which lasts three months, and sees no restrictions to participation, involvement and above all, is ONLY for exhibition purposes. 
 
Making it a ‘non-commercial’ event, a biennale is the total opposite of an art fair, where the latter is fueled by collectors and patrons of art.  An art fair determines ‘market trends’ whereas a biennale determines ‘artist trends’. 
 
This in itself makes it very easy, and even more so, welcoming for anyone, whether a fisherman on the banks of Kochi, or a politician from Kerala or even the curator of the Guggenheim, to visit.
 
Indeed, this is what happened after the unfortunate first week of the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. 
 
This was the phenomenon which actually justified the event in a country like India, where ‘high’ art (other than tribal art / crafts or religious art) was brought in an ‘in-your-face’ way to the locals. 
 
This is sublime.
 
When you see a local Keralite, or a by-the-way tourist just walk into Aspinwall House or Pepper House, experiencing Sheela Gowda’s stones, Srinivas Prasad’s gunny bag staircase or LN Tallur’s roof tops, I believe the purpose of this biennale has been served, and the organizer’s motive has been achieved.
 
The installations were breathtaking and were true to the curatorial concept of creating contemporary works based on the historicity of the land. 
 
The enigma of Muziris and the characteristics of Kochi were a hypnotic blend for artists to produce unparalleled works of art.
 
Art in India is not like art in Europe and America. Our Modern art is much more recent than that of the West, and our people are not as well versed with the Modern or Contemporary. 
 
We still don’t have that solid institutional support, except for a few; such as Lalit Kala Akademi, National Gallery of Modern Art, Devi Art Foundation and more recently the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, which are key to promoting the arts in the country today, as permanent institutions in the major cities.With the Biennale though, there is a concentration of educational events within the three-month period, which comes by every two years. 
 
Here, involving the young artists and the students in this program, hosting lectures by veterans like Chris Dercon, the director of the Tate Modern, artist forums with veterans like Amar Kanwar, Marieke Van Hal, Ariel Hassan, Amanullah Mojadidi and Jonas Staal; these become a part of the culture as well as enable shifts in cultural paradigms over time. 
 
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a brave and challenging project, set in a culture which is only just breaking away from tradition, to understand the modern ways. Compared to the Venice Biennale, which was established in 1895, we have a long way to go, and much to accomplish. This biennale will be a catalyst in opening minds and exchanging inter-cultural relations at the grass root level.
 
Kanchi Mehta is the Founder and Chief Curator of Chameleon Art Projects, an initiative to encourage artistic practices across the globe through curated exhibitions, residencies, publications and artist management.

 

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