Dressed in bright yellow, corresponding to the harsh afternoon sun in Kochi, when artist Anita Dube led a group of art enthusiasts for a guided tour of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, it was not just her vision for the spectacle that she was sharing but also a showcase through which she perhaps is attempting to rewrite certain histories and question what has become accepted. At the very onset, the curator of the fourth edition of the Biennale, asserted, “Those pushed to the margins of dominant narratives will speak: not as victims, but as futurism’s cunning and sentient sentinels.”
A room dedicated to late textile artist Priya Ravish Mehra showcases her experiments with natural dyes, paper and the fragments she famously pieced together with the rafoogars. The adjoining corridor has Sunil Janah’s photographs of tribes, from the Santhals in Bengal to Maria tribes in Bastar and peasants from Malabar. In times when concerns are often raised about the coexistence of the peripheral and the mainstream, Dube notes how Janah’s photographs from the ’40s and ’50s find a connect with BV Suresh’s immersive and stark installation Canes of Wrath, where the viewer stands in a battleground where liberal voices are being silenced and “teachings of great thinkers are manipulated”. In self-taught modernist Madhvi Parekh’s sculptures and wall works, Dube notes, “the rebellion is visible of women”.
Inaugurated on Wednesday, the fourth edition of the Biennale features 90-plus artists from across the globe. Among them is the artist collective Otolith Group, who ran for the Turner prize in 2010. If legendary Austrian artist Valie Export is showcasing works from her early performances and an installation titled Frgmante der Bilder einer Beruhrung, South African artist Marlene Dumas is showcasing drawings inspired by the eroticism in Indian miniature paintings. Introducing Johannesburg-based artist William Kentridge’s eight-channel video projection, More Sweetly Play the Dance, Dube noted how it is a “Lament about all the follies of history”.
Sue Williamson dedicates her outdoor installation Message from the Atlantic to those who were forced to leave the Kochi shores in the 16th and 19th centuries when human trafficking was rampant. “Through the work, in some ways, she attempts to clean this history,” says Dube.
Among the works are Chitra Ganesh’s trademark narratives in Indian comic style and Kolkata artist Bapi Das’ tapestries and, in a corner hall, walls with Gond myths and folklore. We are thrown back into the dark age when encountering Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Gupta’s For, In Your Tongue, I Can Fit —100 Jailed Poets, that tells words penned by writers imprisoned for their poetry and politics over centuries. Downstairs, near the entrance, is Scottish artist Nathan Coley’s text-based light sculpture, A Place Beyond Belief. Dube notes, “Art can be that place.”
The walk ends where Dube opens up the space for all others — the Biennale Pavilion at Cabral Yard, where anyone can share their thoughts and work. “I am trying to create a Biennale where pleasure and pedagogy can be brought together,” says Dube.