Victoria AM’s cramped art shop, the interior walls of which are lined with her watercolour paintings and pencil drawings, sits by the side of the popular Bazaar Road in Mattancherry in West Kochi. Over the next three months, thousands, if not lakhs, of people will stroll by her shop towards one of the venues of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), the prestigious exhibition of contemporary art which is set to open to the public in the city on December 12, and will go on until March 29, 2019.
Even if Victoria was excited when the Biennale first came to Kochi’s shores back in 2012, it is clear that she is not thrilled by it any longer. The 58-year-old painter, who said she understood very early on in her childhood that she wasn’t interested in anything but art, said the Biennale doesn’t appeal to her anymore as it once did. The principal reason for it being, she believes the Biennale does nothing to promote or encourage the artists in Kerala, especially women.
“When the Biennale came for the first time (in 2012), I was very active doing a lot of educational outreach among schools. There was a point when I would come home after work, and just drop to the floor because I was so tired. I have done so much for the Biennale,” said Victoria, engaged in sprucing up the outside walls of her shop on Tuesday.
“But, today the Biennale is in its fourth edition and promises to give greater prominence to women this time. But where are the women artists from Kerala? Is there anyone?’ she asked.
This year, the KMB for the first time has a woman curator in Anita Dube, a celebrated contemporary artist based in Greater Noida whose works have found a place in some of the world’s most prestigious exhibitions. As a part of the Biennal’s effort in providing women with an opportunity to display their work, the KMB has more women artists this year than ever before. But Victoria’s grievance still stands valid. The long list of around 90 artists this year features only one female artist from Kerala – Santha KV, a self-taught textile artist from Kozhikode. There are quite a few male artists from the state on that list though.
“I’m not asking for myself. I don’t want anything,” Victoria makes it clear. “But there are so many women artists in Kerala. Couldn’t they have set up a pavilion exclusively for them? After all, the Biennale is taking place in Kerala.”
“When will they get opportunities to prove their talent? After they die? They need to be given their due when they are alive. Not after they die,” she added.
Victoria, who has worked with tribal kids and families in Wayanad district of the state acknowledges that she has nothing personal against the Biennale or its organisers. “It’s an expression of art, it’s good,” she said. “But people like us, you know, are nowhere on the pages of history. We live and die. The work of women artists in Kerala deserve to be recorded.”