Colour,Canvas,Chaos

It was being promoted as a major showcase of Indian art. But a series of controversies now clouds the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: January 6, 2012 2:58 am

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale would be a hub of Indian and international art hitherto unseen in this country — this was the promise when word first spread about India’s first biennale in 2010.

In February 2011,artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu officially announced that the biennale would be taking place at various venues in Kochi,Kerala.

India’s art world went into an anticipatory tizzy. Since then,however,the project has run into a series of controversies,though Krishnamachari and Komu,co-founders of the event,say that preparations are on track and the dates and curatorial concept will be announced during the India Art Fair in Delhi later this month.

A group of artists from Kerala has demanded a probe into the manner in which the biennale is being planned. “The government has sanctioned Rs 73.2 crore for the project; this is a huge amount,” says artist Ajit Kumar. Joining him in the protest are CL Porinjukutty,former principal of the College of Fine Arts,Thiruvananthapuram,art historian KC Chithrabhanu and artists KK Rajappan,NN Rimzon,Tensing Joseph and Shibu Natesan. They have called for a “vigilance probe” into the granting of crores of rupees to the Kochi Biennale Foundation by the previous Left Democratic Front government of Kerala. “There seems to be a misappropriation of funds. Funds for the biennale have been given from those sanctioned for the Muziris heritage project,” says Kumar.

In response to questions sent by The Indian Express,the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) issued a statement: “It was never the case that the entire budget was expected to come from government funds,and the government never had any such provision. A split between state,centre and sponsorship was discussed,and a breakdown along those lines seemed likely but it was never demanded or agreed.” The Foundation adds,“Our accounts are independently audited and were submitted to the government on December 27. These account for the full Rs 5 crore received from the government till now,of which Rs 3.5 crore was spent on the renovation of Durbar Hall.”

The century-old Durbar Hall is one of the locations where the biennale will be held. After months of renovation,the Hall was inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in November 2011. Impressed,he called it “Asia’s best gallery”,but Lantern,an artist’s association in Kerala,accused KBF of misusing funds allocated for renovation.

“I am told that except for new lighting,false walls and split air conditioners,no fundamental renovation has taken place. It seems unlikely that Rs 3.5 crore was spent on this,” alleges art critic Johny ML.

The Kochi battleground,meanwhile,is complex with locals artists up in arms against KBF. “We are not against the biennale,but we are protesting against irregularities by the government and the Foundation. It is a private trust using public money without any accountability. The project talks about the allotment of Rs 15 crore for 10 sculptures,yet there is no detail about the artwork. The organisers should have discussions and seminars in Kerala,where experts are called in to discuss the biennale,” says NN Rimzon. The Foundation,however,insists that they have had “long,frequent discussions with several artists from Kerala,many of them respected and senior”. “We have also invited some of them,including those who are now criticising us,to join us as advisors,” states the KBF.

All eyes are now on the India Art Fair,and the promised announcement of the biennale’s final plans.

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