It’s that time of the year again. The streets and by-lanes of western Kochi have come alive with colourful festoons and wall murals, thanks to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, a celebration of contemporary art which in its fourth edition has managed to put the city on the global art map. The event, inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 12, will run till March 29, 2019, at ten different venues spread across the city.
For a place that is surrounded by talented art connoisseurs, there are a few whose work have stood out. For the first time this year, the Biennale has a female curator in Anita Dube, an accomplished artist based in Greater Noida whose work, often bubbling with political undertones, has transcended barriers of traditional craft. The theme ‘possibilities for a non-alienated life’ resonates with Dube’s body of work and seeks to bring the works of female and queer artists and those of colour to the fore, breaking gender barriers like never before. Even if the festival faces charges of being elitist, the presence of artists like Dube confirms a platform for artists from conflict-prone and marginalised societies.
This year, at the Biennale, from photographs to paintings and art installations to infrastructure projects, there were some works of art that have appealed to us more than the other pieces.
But then, as they say, art is subjective and open to interpretations and perceptions – what may inspire one may not arouse the same feeling in others. Here are a few interesting projects that a visitor to the Biennale shouldn’t miss:
Metropolis – Lubna Chowdhary
A 1000 hand-made ceramic sculptures of varying sizes, shapes and colours crafted over two decades – that’s what Lubna Chowdhary’s Metropolis is all about. On the creaking upper floor of Pepper House in Fort Kochi, Metropolis has been delightfully arranged within the confines of a long glass case that extends from one end of the room to the other. From a ukulele to a Zippo cigarette lighter, a lighthouse to a flying saucer, Metropolis have everything from our daily lives, and even from outside our planet. What went on in Chowdhary’s mind as she produced these objects, only she can answer.
Ecocide and the Rise of Free Fall – Marzia Farhana
The colossal devastation caused by the August floods this year in Kerala and the sweeping impact it had on thousands of households in the state was the foundation of artist Marzia Farhana’s excellent multi-media installation in one of the ground-floor rooms of Aspinwall House. Farhana’s installation, for many survivors of the flood this year, is a reminder of painful memories of their homes literally turning upside-down due to the raging floodwaters. “Must we continue with our ways of exploitation of nature?”, the Bangladesh-based artist asks us troubling questions.
Sahodarar – Vipin Dhanurdharan
One of the reasons why the Biennale has resonated so deeply with visitors is because it has tirelessly touched upon issues related to caste and communal conflicts. Vipin Dhanurdharan’s work ‘Sahodaran’, which draws its name from the late social reformer-rationalist Sahodaran Ayyappan, is a case in point. The Kochi-based artist has sketched portraits of the city’s own people, his neighbours, at whose homes he has eaten and had free-wheeling conversations with.
Ayyappan’s famed act of organising a ‘misrabhojanam’ (community dining) at a time when upper-caste people would not eat a meal with those belonging to a lower-caste community became a defining point of his career. Dhanurdharan has attempted to replicate the same and has established a free kitchen on the grounds of Aspinwall House for anyone who wants to sit and have a meal.
Resilient Bodies in the Era of Resistance – Prabhakar Pachpute
Prabhakar Pachpute, an artist from Chandrapur in Maharashtra, brings to the Biennale the plight of his fellow villagers as they resisted in arms against mega mining companies. The high-ceiling rooms of Anand Warehouse in Mattanchery displays large plywood cutouts on which Pachpute has painted his village’s struggle using charcoal and acrylic colour. At a time when our cities have seen large-scale agitations from our farmers, Pachpute’s brilliant work throws light on why we need to protect our farmers from multinational corporations and oppressive governments.
Relics from the Lost Paradise – Veer Munshi
One of the showcase projects of the Srinagar Biennale, that has set up its works at the TKM Warehouse in Chullikkal, is Veer Munshi’s installation. Inside what looks like a shrine lies a number of baby coffins, in the shape of a T – some closed, some open. The visitor is asked to walk through the graveyard and take in the atmosphere of dread, of a certain macabre, that unfortunately reflects the everyday reality of Kashmir. The installation note, quite profoundly, reads: “Often times, all that the dead want, is for someone to hear their story before the graph shifts from the paranormal to the normal again.”
Messages from the Atlantic Passage – Sue Williamson
Giving an artistic touch to the phenomenon of slave trade over the Atlantic Ocean is a mind-boggling installation by South Africa-based artist Sue Williamson in one of the huge, ground-floor rooms of the Aspinwall House. Empty bottles hanging upside-down in large nets, reflect the negligible information available on forced human trafficking in South Africa. According to available records, each bottle carries information of the trafficked. The hanging bottles are a poignant, painful reminder of such tragedies.