Biennale a Forum to Exert Pressure on System of Neglect: Riyas Komu

Kochi: Providing an overview of the past half-century of art infrastructure-building in India, Riyas Komu, renowned artist and Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) co-founder, described the Biennale as the inheritor of a pan-Indian tradition of artist-led activism.

“Despite the absence of proper institutional structures and lack of support from the Central Government, Indian art has evolved through the efforts and leadership of strong practising artists and movements. Over successive political administrations and national budgets, art has continued to be neglected. The Biennale is a challenge to this system,” Komu said here the other day.

Komu was delivering the inaugural address at a two-day international symposium that seeks to address a range of concepts and contexts and ask what they mean for the ethics of curating. Titled ‘Curating Under Pressure’, the conference – co-hosted by the Kochi Biennale Foundation and Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan – was held at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard.

“The KMB is a project with many layers of pressure. Despite these, it has become a forum for different kinds of resources and agencies – previously functioning in niches – to come together and put pressure on the system,” Komu said, noting that the Biennale had successfully sustained its artistic spirit over three editions.

“In the 2016-17 Budget, the Union Government had allocated Rs. 2,500 crore to culture, which was about 0.13 per cent of the total allocation – to be split between the country’s libraries, museums, ASI, Kala Sanskriti Vikas Yojana, cultural institutions, among other beneficiaries. The Biennale is challenging this system by generating an ecosystem of creativity by art-making, curatorial exercises and artist practitioners,” he said.

This was a sentiment echoed and remarked upon throughout the first day, which saw participation from Leonhard Emmerling, Programme Director South Asia at Goethe-Institute; Aaron Kreisler, from Ilam School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury; Shuddhabrata Sengupta, of the Raqs Media Collective, which curated the 11th Shanghai Biennale; Gabriele Horn, Berlin Biennale Director and Reem Fadda, Curator of the sixth Marrakech Biennale.

In a session titled ‘Censorship and State Interference’, Bose Krishnamachari, Co-founder, KMB noted that the KMB was unique because it prioritised artistic freedom despite budgetary pressures. The discussion also examined the role of art in the face of political pressure and explored ways to respond to censorship and state-attempts to co-opt events like biennales.