The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is an international art exhibition hosted in Kochi, Kerala. Biennale is an Italian word meaning ‘every other year’ or ‘biennial’. A Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) initiative supported by the Government of Kerala, the biennale is currently on its third edition. (Previous editions were in 2012 and 2014 respectively.)
The KBF is a non-profit charitable trust and an artist-initiated organisation which was established to propagate, teach and study art and its indispensable role in society. Apart from the biennale, it also conducts several other educational programmes, talks, conferences and workshops via the Students’ Biennale, the KBF Video Lab, and KBF Let’s Talk Series, to name a few.
Theme and Structure
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale was inaugurated on December 12, 2016, by the curator, Sudarshan Shetty, a contemporary Indian artist who works with art forms such as painting, sculpture, installation and performance art. The theme, ‘forming in the pupil of an eye’, was inspired by old Vedic beliefs and the understanding that all philosophical ideas come from a physiological being with the eye as a reflective organ. The eye reflects and looks at the world in multiple ways, and this sense of multiplicity in a single space is portrayed at the biennale.
Spread across twelve venues and for a duration of over three months, with ninety-seven artists from thirty countries displaying their work, you will need at least four days to do justice to this fantastic art exhibition. In case you are in Kochi for only a day, fret not! The official biennale website has a very useful post on how to plan your itinerary if you’re only making a quick visit.
There are ten venues in and around Fort Kochi, while the two additional venues are at the Kottapuram Fort and Durbar Hall, around forty kilometres away from Ernakulam. We must admit that we managed to cover only seven venues in the two days we snuck away post Christmas last year. Starting at Aspinwall, we set out on our art adventure with a stroke of luck (or so we thought) as Mondays mean free entry into Aspinwall. A side note: please do not visit the biennale on a Monday — the entry might be free; the oxygen, not so much.
Every artist whose work was displayed at the biennale was undoubtedly spectacular, but at the risk of sounding biased, we must mention a few favourites — ones that definitely made us exclaim in awe.
The most sensible venue to start the biennale expedition is Aspinwall, located in the centre of Fort Kochi. The entry fee per day for adults is ₹100, and for children below fifteen years is ₹50. Aspinwall is the biggest venue and will take the longest time to complete. With five blocks (A to E) and a myriad of artists displaying their work of varying art forms, expect to be not just stunned, but also slightly overwhelmed (in a good way, of course).
We enjoyed E. P. Unny’s political cartoons, which relied on specific shared knowledge between him and the readers, almost making it seem like an exclusive club of puns and wordplay. Rachel Maclean’s Please Sir was a clever and unusual depiction of ghoulish characters through film and photography.
We can write pages about the artists and their work, but to save you some time reading this post so you can spend it at the venues instead, here are a few artists and works you absolutely cannot miss:
- Gabriel Lester’s Dwelling Kappiri Spirits
- Yang Hongwei’s Ye Yan Tu — a twelve-metre scroll made out of traditional Chinese paper and ink.
- Dai Xiang’s The New Along the River during The Qingming Festival 2014
- Sunil Padwal’s Room for Lies — this one will make you either nostalgic, curious or both.
- G.R. Iranna’s From Ash to Ash — infinity, where the formless is contained within the form.
- C. Bhagyanath’s Secret Dialogues — art that grows every day of the biennale. Do not miss meeting the artist himself, a charming soul.
- Raúl Zurita’s The Sea of Pain — a flood depicting the pain caused by the war in Syria.
- Istvàn Csàkàny’s Ghost Keeping
- Martin Walde’s Chain — a sculptural installation of a chain with links that progressively decrease in size, representing a hypothetical chain that could infinitely expand and extend, shrink and abbreviate into the eternity of time and space. A relatively useless object, but when you think about a future use for the chain, it becomes a shared project against the unfreedom associated with chains in history.
- Bob Gramsma’s riff off, OI#16238
- Aleš Šteger’s The Pyramid of Exiled Poets
- Dia Mehta Bhupal’s Bathroom Set — an entire bathroom made from rolled-up magazine paper. See the second picture below for a close-up view of the magazine text.
- P. K. Sadanandan’s 12 Stories (of the 12 progeny) — this was created using only natural colours from laterite organic pigments.
- Sergio’s Chejfec’s Dissemination of a Novel — his novel Baroni: A Journey, translated from Spanish to English, appears across many walls in Kochi.
- Orijit Sen’s Go Playces — you are just bound to have fun with this one. This is the perfect example of art interacting with the audience. Be prepared, there are games and puzzles involved.
Pepper House is another venue you definitely must visit. Ouyang Jianghe’s Tears of Taj Mahal is a forty-metre calligraphic scroll which refracts his prismatic vision of art and language through paper and ink. Hanna Tuulikki’s Sourcemouth: Liquidbody is a unique audio-visual installation on the consciousness of water.
Kashi Art Café has a few quirky sculptures and is a good place to break for a snack, especially since you are inevitably going to be exhausted after covering Aspinwall.
Kashi Art Gallery is a great point to start your second day at the biennale. Abir Karmakar’s Home is a magnificent photo-realistic installation of domestic interiors dramatizing the space between perception and interpretation of ‘home’. From here, proceed to David Hall, where the work of three impressive artists, namely, Dana Awartani, Avinash Veeraraghavan and Padmini Chettur is displayed. (This is also a great place for a quick pizza break.)
Since the art at the Cochin Club was taken down after the first week of the biennale, we recommend you visit St. Francis Church and the Dutch Cemetery — two architectural beauties.
Our final venue was Cabral Yard which is the hub for artist interaction, screenings, performances, talks and discussions. The Pavilion is an architectural installation built by Tony Joseph constituting one of the integral meeting places at the biennale. Sophie Dejode and Bertrand Lacombe’s La Vénale de Bionise is a part-laboratory and part-circus playground — a commentary on the medical science professions that label a state outside the ‘normal’ as mental illness.
What We Thought of the Biennale
Just in case this isn’t already evident, we absolutely loved the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Do not miss a chance to experience this art extravaganza! While we did miss a few venues, we might just make another trip to Kochi to cover those — or perhaps you could share your stories with us.
The biennale is on until March 29, 2016.
Stay hydrated, avoid the biennale on a Monday, and hire a cycle to travel between venues. The ticket allows for multiple entry into Aspinwall but only a single entry into every other venue.