The fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is witnessing a steady stream of art lovers as well as common people. The event familiarizes visitors with the latest trends in the international art scene along with presenting new ideas and thoughts. The theme for this biennale is 'non-alienation,' and the exhibition embraces it by offering a platform to artists from marginalised communities, like the tribals, LGBTQ persons, and women. Let us go over the diverse kinds of installations this year.
Based mainly in the historic quarters of Fort Kochi, the biennale is held at nine venues, including the main exhibition area Aspinwall House, Dutch palace, Anand Warehouse, TKM warehouse, Kashi art café, Kashi art gallery, David hall, Pepper House, and Cabral Yard. In addition is the gallery of the Lalithakala Academy at Durbar Hall in Ernakulam city. Meanwhile, venues have been arranged for Students' Biennale and to exhibit the collateral projects.
Built by an Englishman named John H Aspinwall, this building was the headquarters of the firm, Aspinwall & Co Ltd. Aspinwall House is not just the main venue but a place where the most number of installations have been arranged – 60.
A visit of the biennale can be started by viewing a colourful installation under a mango tree in bloom. It is a creation by K V Santha, a Keralite who works for the renaissance and propagation of the traditional weaving sector. It can also be considered as a symbol of the biennale itself, which weaves vastly different art forms from around the world seamlessly together.
A loom that creates music
In the coir godown in Aspinwall House are installations that represent the evolution of man's tryst with art. The creations start from a work by Priya Raveesh Mehra that is made of natural fibres and end with 'Con-struction-I' and 'Con-struction-II' by Arun Kumar H G made of raw materials used in modern construction.
A unique work among them is an installation by Mexican artist Tania Candiyani. A disused traditional loom has been transformed into a musical instrument by replacing the thread with sitar strings and fixing a sound box. This work, which makes a viewer recall the glorious handloom traditions of Kerala, was created by the artist after arriving here.
Several works presented at the biennale highlight the tendency of the human mind to let the imagination soar and also to think about the future. Many of them deal with current social situations. Among the most popular creations is 'Bird,' a video installation by Sonia Khurana that sparked controversies around the world. Another notable piece of art is 'Mathi Maa' (Bhoo Matha) by Shambhavi. It is an installation that depicts a flock of birds flying away from a field, but the birds are represented as sickles, traditional fans, shallow baskets, the water wheels and other farming paraphernalia.
Other interesting works in this section are paintings by Madhavi Parekh, 'Cane of Wrath' by B V Suresh and 'C-Stunners' by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru.
'Brothers,' a work by Keralite artist Vipin Dhanurdharan, had attracted attention from the start of the event. It draws inspiration from the community lunch (misra bhojanan) involving people of different sections of the society organized under the leadership of Sahodaran Ayyappan in 1917. The event was a major step in social reformation and now at the biennale anyone can have food from the eatery arranged at the venue. The works highlights the need for all people to have a meal together and share the brotherhood. Vipin visited several houses in the Fort Kochi-Mattancherry areas as part of his work, had food with the residents and made portraits of those who served the meals. These paintings are also exhibited.
Dreams take shape
A frozen glass house has been set up by Chinese artist Song Dong between the coir godown and the Bungalow. It makes one realize the dominance of time over our lives – time that erases everything that we record.
Many interesting works are arranged in the two-storeyed bungalow also. One is 'Tomorrow everything will be all right' by Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari that has a unique presentation.
'One hundred and nineteen deed of sale' by Soo Williamson from South Africa deals with a dark chapter in Colonial history. It presents details of research conducted into the people forcibly taken as slaves to Africa from many places, including Kochi.
Works by Radom Komelick, Anju Dodi and Martha Rosler make the viewers ponder over the fate of the world.
The laboratory in Aspinwall House attracts attention by presenting new experiments in the field of art. Among the exhibits are the works by Chitra Ganesh from New York, who attempts to make art inclusive with the help of modern technology and Marcia Farhana from Bangladesh, who has depicted the floods in Kerala. Farhana has termed the natural disasters around the world as 'A trap that man cannot evade.'
Another eye-catching creation is 'God's summit' by Temsuyanger Longkumer from Nagaland. It is a multi-media work of art. On the upper floor is 'More sweetly play the dance,' a video installation in eight screens by South African artist William Kentridge. It is the biggest video art in the current edition of the biennale. There are 10 installations in the bungalow.
Store and hanger
There are over 20 installations in this section and the photo art of Cuban artist Leyandra Feyal is notable. Works by Guerrilla Girls, a group of women artists who appear in public only with masks, are also included.
Another work by Soo Williamson is exhibited in this section. It is titled 'Message from the Atlantic passage.' Records of the slave trade in the 16th to 18th centuries are referred to and the names of the slaves, age and gender are displayed in bottles.
In the last section in Aspinwall House, creation by Anoli Perera from Sri Lanka, Bracha Ettinger from Israel and V V Vinu and Arya Krishna from Kerala reflect the varied dimensions art can achieve.
Meanwhile, Subhash Vyom and Durga Bayi Vyom create a wide world with Gond art, which uses earth of different colours – black, yellow, and saffron.
This is a stately building at Kalvathy road in Fort Kochi. Built in Dutch style, it has a large central courtyard too and nine installations have been arranged here.
Pass along the 'Sister library' a women's art collective, and to the central courtyard, where visitors may be drenched in a sudden drizzle. It is 'Rainbow II,' an installation by Temsuyangor Longkumer. Other thought-provoking works are 'The mosquito shrine' by Vivian Kakoori from Brazil and 'Metropolis' by Lubna Chowdhury from Tanzania.
Map project space
Five works can be seen in this venue, a little further along the Kalvathy road. The creation by Rana Hamadeh from Lebanon uses only sound through eight channels to transport visitors to a mysterious world.
Turn from Kalvathi Road to Bazaar Road and Anand Warehouse is right ahead. There are two works here. One is by Prabhakar Pachputhe that deals with the misery of the Indian farmer. The other is a wood cut made by Malaysian activist art group Pangrok Sulap. The Malaysian artists interacted with people in Kerala to create the work.
Located at Kochangadi road, seven interesting exhibits are arranged in TKM Warehouse. They include works by Brook Andrew, Probir Gupta, Jithesh Kallatt and Ajay Desai that deal with the colonization of Kerala and Australia. Meanwhile, 'A space for repose,' which is presented as part of the Srinagar biennale, stands apart at this venue.
Works by Saneli Muholi from South Africa and Vanessa Bird from Norway can be seen at David hall, near Parade ground. Muholi's photo series is a documentation of the lives of Black people and is part of the 'Faces and faces' project.
Kashi art gallery adjacent to the café has a photo installation by Kibuki Mugees Oskar from Uganda. It depicts the history of break dance in Uganda.
Three creations by Anagram Architects, Edible Archives and Thomas Hershon are arranged at Cabral yard. The work by Anagaram Architects is in the form of a 'koothambalam' (traditional dance hall of Kerala) and Edible Archives serve dishes made of unique rice varieties in India.
Cabral yard also hosts a workshop for kids where youngsters can use their imagination to create art with the materials available there.
Meanwhile, at Durbar Hall in the city, works by Mrinalini Mukherjee, K P Krishna Kumar and Chithoprasad Bhattacharya are arranged. Mrinalini uses several fibres to create plants, animals and erotic sculptures.
Venues of students' biennale have been set up at various corners of Fort Kochi. They are near the main venues. In addition, collateral project venues are arranged where major artists can exhibit their works outside the purview of the biennale.
That the biennale has attracted international attention is evident from the number of foreign visitors at the venues.
Information regarding the artist and the work is displayed near each work and it will take at least three days to have a total experience of the event.
With Anita Dube as the curator of the present edition, the presence of a large number of women artists is the highlight of the event. Works dealing with the struggles and resistance of women and marginalized people can be seen at many spots. It is evident that the biennale, that lasts up to March 29, 2019, would not only lead visitors to a new world of art but also expand their imagination.