Kochi Transforming into a Shore of Artistic Creativity

Kochi: The sea-facing heritage properties, abandoned warehouses and buildings in the port city of Kerala will soon turn into beautiful exhibition spaces for the next 100-plus days.

Kochi transforms every two years into a hub of the latest in contemporary art through the much-celebrated art extravaganza, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB). The third edition of KMB, which is set to open on December 12 and run for 108 days till March 29, will be featuring performances and productions of 97 artists from 36 countries across disciplines, forms and styles.

Straddling the idea of ‘performative’ forms Biennale’s cornerstone and this will allow it to embrace several streams – poetry, architecture, dance, music and drama – and create a Biennale of multiplicities, which yet remains inclusive in its sum and substance. In keeping with the artistic vision of its curator, eminent artist Sudarshan Shetty, KMB 2016 seeks to question the labels and blur the lines between various modes of artistic expression.

Titled ‘Forming in the Pupil of an Eye,’ KMB 2016 will feature writers, dancers, poets, musicians and theatre practitioners along with a host of visual artists. The rather poetic title, which was envisioned by Sudarshan Shetty along with author Sharmistha Mohanty, is drawn from the Vedic idea of a sage opening his eyes to the world, and absorbing several multiplicities.

The art festival, undoubtedly the largest celebration of contemporary art in South Asia, will spread across 11 venues in Fort Kochi-Mattancherry and Ernakulam, and be supported by ancillary events that include a Students’ Biennale.

The roster of participating artists is compellingly varied this year. This Biennale’s first artist, iconic Chilean poet-revolutionary Raúl Zurita, was announced as early as last year. The event will feature works of master cartoonist E P Unny, eminent Malayalam litterateur Anand, renowned graphic artist Orijit Sen, stage performances by theatre director and filmmaker Anamika Haksar and Kalakshetra Manipur, Sangam poetry recitals, dance performances and printmaking, among other artistic mediums.

Artists Raúl Zurita, who also works with visual arts, Scottish artist Charles Avery and Swiss sculptor and installation artist Bob Gramsma are some of the leading names from abroad. The 36 Indian artists participating in the Biennale include some of the leading lights of their respective fields. Eight well-known artists from Pune will also be part of the official events.

With about a million visitors coming to witness the first two editions, Biennale has emerged as an important event of the State’s tourism calendar. Considering its potential to attract holiday-makers, the Kerala Government has come up with strategies to market the event as a tourism product and earmarked Rs. 7.5 crore for the purpose. The first and second editions of the Biennale together received Rs. 12-crore Government assistance.

Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala Chief Minister, will inaugurate KMB 2016 at Parade Ground in Fort Kochi on December 12, following a flag hoisting ceremony at Aspinwall House, a major Biennale venue.

After just two editions, public contribution has eclipsed Government aid. The Government input in 2012 amounted to 63 per cent. In 2014, it was the individuals, art and cultural institutes and corporate houses that accounted for 67 per cent of the contribution.

Lending his support yet again to the KMB, Yusuffali M A, MD, LuLu Group International has donated Rs. 1 crore to the third edition of the mega art event. The second Biennale also saw Yusuffali supporting the event with a donation of Rs. 50 lakh.

“The Biennale is a vast canvas where art transcends boundaries with the participation of international artists. It is now a world-renowned contemporary art festival, thanks to the organisers. Promoting such an event will help boost Kerala’s cultural tourism. The public and the corporate world have a collective responsibility to support the event,” he said.

In a first from the private banking sector, South Indian Bank (SIB) has pledged Rs. 1 crore in support of the event. Noting the importance of forging such links, Komu said, “SIB’s partnership with KBF comes at a time when art patronage and encouragement is needed more than ever. Their trust in us will help the Foundation do more to broaden public access to art and to ensure this homegrown Biennale continues to be considered one of the best in the world. But more than that, SIB is making a valuable cultural investment that is true to its pioneering history.”

 Student’s Biennale

The Students’ Biennale (SB), a unique exhibitory platform which will showcase the works of over 350 young artists from 55 schools across the country, is a core component of the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s art education and outreach programmes to promote contemporary art practices in India. SB 2016 will be inaugurated on December 13 – a day after the opening of the KMB – by Prof. C Raveendranath, Kerala Education Minister. The event will be spread over seven venues in Fort Kochi. They are Jew Town area of Fort Kochi, M K Trades, Kotachery Brothers & Co., Arjuna Art Gallery, Heritage Arts, Mattancherry Temple Property, Mohammed Ali Warehouse and Fadi Hall.

First held in 2014, SB is being conducted in association with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and the Foundation for Indian Art and Education (FIAE), and is supported by Tata Trust. Driven by 15 emerging curators, the project reaches out to art schools throughout India to encourage art students to reflect on their practices and showcase their works on an international stage. SB thus channels the energies of a global art event into the art education system, challenging students to go beyond the constraints of both curriculum and exhibition.

 KBF Names New CEO

The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), the groundbreaking art institution which hosts the KMB, has named Manju Sara Rajan as its CEO. Manju, 38, joined KBF as communications director in February. She is backed by a journalism degree from Sydney’s Macquarie University and over a decade’s experience of working in premier media houses, including Time magazine’s Asia edition in Hong Kong. She is the founding editor of AD Architectural Digest India.

As the CEO, she will oversee the creative, financial and administrative management of various KBF activities, including its outreach and educational programmes.

“KBF is a pioneering institution whose activities I have watched with great admiration over the past four years,” said Manju. “I was thrilled to become a part of the organisation earlier this year, and to work as the director of communications for the upcoming Biennale. Now, to be given this immense mandate as the CEO of the organisation is a huge honour and responsibility. But we have an experienced, enthusiastic team and so, I am looking forward to working with them in a whole new way,” she added.