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Monday, Dec 05, 2022

Art for the people

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a celebration of culture by ordinary citizens

Contemporary art in India was perceived to be an elite enterprise, produced and consumed by a tiny segment of the population.

The third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) ended on Wednesday. Nearly six lakh people visited the various Biennale sites across Kochi and its neighbourhood that showcased work of artists from across the world over 108 days. Since its inception in 2012, the KMB has evolved into India’s foremost cultural event attracting a large audience, both local and global. This is exceptional in many ways.

Contemporary art in India was perceived to be an elite enterprise, produced and consumed by a tiny segment of the population. It was patronised by galleries, a very small section of the corporate world and the state. When the Indian economy was liberalised, the art market too benefited though the boom hardly took art to the commoners. The KMB has reworked this matrix. In the process, it may have liberated the production and appreciation of art from existing perceptual traps and patronage networks. The exceptional turnouts at successive Biennales point to a people celebrating art without any preconceived notions. The KMB has offered itself as a platform for the people to interact, engage and learn without inhibitions. Clearly, a great number of people agree with this dialogic vision.

Is the KMB replicable elsewhere? Surely, the local ingredients that contributed to the making of the KMB have helped its success. Fort Kochi, the primary locale for the KMB, works well as a space for the arts: Its rich past of being a cosmopolitan trade hub meshes with the idea of the Biennale as a global platform to showcase diverse art practices. The KMB doesn’t seek to refashion Kochi’s spaces but merges with the unique setting the city offers with its waterfront and abandoned warehouses. Though the first push to launch the Biennale came from CPM leader M.A. Baby, successive governments have backed the initiative, even building synergies with the state’s tourism and hospitality sectors. More importantly, the local population seems to have taken ownership of the Biennale, turning it into a people’s festival.

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First published on: 31-03-2017 at 12:17:18 am
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