Italian artist Daniele Galliano was in Europe when he heard of demonetisation in India. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 participant was advised by friends to “arrange for currency” before he landed in Kochi on December 8. But at the stopover in Abu Dhabi he managed to exchanged less than 100 dollars. “It is a small amount. I am here till January 2 and will run out of cash soon. I will have to arrange for something then,” says Galliano. Seated in the room at Aspinwall — the main venue of the Biennale — that has his canvases on display, the artist adds, “Credit card isn’t of much use here, it is not accepted in most local stores, so standing in the queue for currency in banks might be the only alternative.”
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Featuring works of 97 artists from 31 countries, the cash crunch that follows demonetisation has derailed and affected the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in multiple ways. “The announcement came weeks before the Biennale was to open on December 12. We were setting works, preparing the venue and suddenly we did not know how to pay the hundreds of labourers, workers, cleaners, carpenters and volunteers who are all paid daily. Several of them have no bank accounts. The vendors told us that the labourers will only come if the daily wages were paid, we had to manage with what we had. Setting up of the works was delayed,” says Treessa Jaifer, Chief Financial Officer, Kochi Biennale Foundation. She adds, “Some of the artists have pitched in with cash, but there is only that much that can be done.”
A student volunteer from Calicut who was advised by her seniors to travel to Kochi during the Biennale to soak in the experience is reconsidering her initial plan to stay the entire duration of the 108-day Biennale. “It is a bit chaotic with no cash available. Some of the artists are also irked due to the situation,” says she. Another volunteer adds, “Several artists want to make small purchases from the local market to install their work. They want basic material like colours or wood, but with no cash that is difficult. The shopkeepers tell us that the Biennale has received crores from sponsors so why can’t they be paid. Of course, we also have only Rs 2,000 notes and there is no change available.”
While the Biennale has a card swipe machine to pay for the entry ticket priced at Rs 100, Jaifer notes that the amount too was re-evaluated after demonetisation. “We were thinking of changing it to Rs 120 this year, to take care of the service tax, but then decided to retain it at Rs 100, so that there was no problem with regard to change,” says Jaifer. And with limited cash in his wallet, Slovenian poet Ales Steger is figuring his plan to travel outside of Fort Kochi. “I am here with family but am scared to move around with such little cash with me,” he says. On Tuesday, he managed to withdraw Rs 2,000 from an ATM machine right at the entrance of Aspinwall. “I am feeling very rich now,” he quipped. He was fortunate. The machine ran out of cash hours after it was recalibrated.