The extent and magnitude of public participation that this edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale has received has been simply overwhelming.
I was struck by the sight of a family of three immersing themselves in the works at the Biennale. The father was reading out aloud the accompanying wall text of the American artist Miller Puckett’s sound installation to his nine-year-old son, before experiencing the work of the artist set in four small rooms. The curiosity, and the involvement of the family members, was endearing.
Such incidents have become a regular affair at the Biennale now. I was taken over by emotions when I heard somebody saying that he has been visiting the Biennale for the third time with his family. Such is the festival’s impact. Gratifying indeed, to say the least.
As far as the eye can seeThe Kochi Biennale Foundation, a non-profit charitable organisation, set up the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on the date 12.12.2016. This time, the Biennale, founded by, run and curated by artists, was spread over 12 venues, with works of 97 artists from 31 countries. The first edition was curated by Riyas Komu and yours truly; the second by Jitish Kallat, and the third is being led by Sudarshan Shetty.
The aspects of location, and the immediate environment, are critical to any act of art and culture-making. The character of Kochi has allowed an organic development of an art route, and the creation of a sustainable ecosystem. This is possible only because of Kochi’s rich heritage of multi-culturalism.
For centuries, the people here have inhaled the air blowing in from distant shores, they have assimilated other cultures, inculcated several diverse customs and religious practices, imbibed foreign norms and adopted several languages. This is the perfect setting for a Biennale. Here is a unique and slender piece of land by the sea that proudly advertises its past through its architecture, cuisine and cultural practices, parades its present unabashedly, and is a lighthouse for the future.
A feast for all the senses
The awareness, excitement and sense of ownership about the Kochi Biennale are palpable. You can smell it on the streets, feel it among the auto rickshaws and taxis, and hear it in hotel lobbies, corridors of schools and colleges, and on street kerbs.
Today, the Kochi Biennale is the pride of all the citizens of the city, and has the support and patronage of people from all walks of life, from all over the country, and not just Kochi – from artists to ordinary individuals, from corporate patrons to embassies, and other cultural institutions in the country.
The state government of Kerala and the department of Tourism are major supporters of the Kochi Biennale, as South Asia’s largest cultural project. Nearly a million people visited the first two editions of the Kochi Muziris Biennale. We have seen a huge number of people already this year, across the 12 venues in Fort Kochi, Mattanchery, Ernakulam and Kottappuram Fort, near (the ancient seaport on the Malabar Coast) Muziris.
By the power of the people
This edition of the festival, themed ‘Forming in the Pupil of an Eye’, is an exceptionally experiential, interactive and performative Biennale. It has seen the participation of visual artists, poets, novelists, theatre artists, traditional artists, performance artists, architects, designers, new media artists and musicians. The highlights include the seminars and talks, workshops, public film screenings at the venue Cabral Yard, and the temporary pavilion created with recycling materials by (the artist and architect) Tony Joseph, on the invitation of Sudarshan Shetty.
The Kochi Biennale Foundation has also organised several parallel projects, such as the Students’ Biennale, curated by 15 young, up-and-coming curators from 55 art colleges in India — from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In addition, theatre activist Manu Jose is heading the ABC (Art By Children) programme, and is running four-day workshops for children at nearly 100 government schools across Kerala. He is conducting this programme along with the help of experts from across the worlds of art, music, theatre and performing arts.
No wonder that the 108-day celebration of international contemporary art is fast becoming a model of inclusivity. This is a “People’s Biennale” in ever sense of the epithet.
Bose Krishnamachari is Co-founder and President of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale continues until 29 March, 2017.Visit kochimuzirisbiennale.org