It’s the fourth edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, the youngest Biennale in the world. Two years since I first heard about the event, I’ve came a long way from demystifying its pronunciation to learning how it helps bend the boundaries of art, globally. For me, the previous edition of the Biennale was an education in how art is no longer an exercise of gawking at wall-hung pieces from multiple interpretive angles. I’d discovered radical medium of expressions, and at times found that I was a co-creator, a co-imaginator and sometimes the art itself.
The theme this time is ‘Possibilities for a non-alienated life’ put together by Anita Dube, the first female curator of KMB. That’s your cue for what’s in store—Kochi Muziris Biennale ‘18-19 is woke. A call to social justice, gender dialogues, minority communities and tribes, lesser-represented countries, capitalistic issues, women-based themes, and a generous representation of female artists themselves. Here’s my pick of the top 8 artworks. It’s a compilation of pieces that display freshness and finesse in subject matter, execution and, of course, what’s close to my heart and my reality.
1. For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit
Shilpa Gupta | At Aspinwall House
This multi-channel sound installation, which has travelled across exhibitions, is an artistic attempt to give voice to 100 poets who have been imprisoned and silenced because of their poetry. The visual aspect of the installation—sheets of paper impaled by metal rods—are just as striking as the audio, which is the sound of recordings of the poetry washing over the room.
I went back to this artwork by Shilpa Gupta three times. I lingered, read the stabbed sheets, heard parts of poetry, and sometimes just sat on the floor, soaking in the power of the words. The installation reminded me of the work ‘The Pyramid of Exiled Poets’ from Biennale ’17, from which I had fled, as the haunting voices of dead and exiled poet were too claustrophobic for me.
Shirin Neshat | At Aspinwall House
‘Turbulent’, a two-screen video installation on facing walls in the same theatre, is a response to how women singers in Iran are not allowed to perform alone in public. On the first screen, a man performs first to an all-male audience, singing a 13th century Sufi song by Rumi. On the other, the woman follows, and performs to an empty venue. Her song is a free-form melody without lyrics, and she uses her hands and face, which is an aberration from norms. The absence of applause from an empty audience screams the state of reality in Iran.
3. Canes of Wrath
BV Suresh | At Aspinwall House
Nothing represents the present political mood in India better than this artwork. At the centre of the room are a few peacocks, the emblem of India’s colourful diversity. However, these peacocks are albino, ripped at the neck and strewn. A distorted voice of a political leader (easy to guess whose) interjects periodically with an insinuating call to the nation. In addition, a constant, bold pounding of the laathisticks lining the walls of the art area, alerts the nation and act as a vigilante towards the political body to stay in line. The work shows the empty, hegemonic nationalism that’s stifling voices of diversity in the nation. With the upcoming elections, for me, the piece hits too close to home.4. The World of Dew
Chandan Gomes | At Aspinwall House
This body of work is from a book by the same name. Photographer Chandan Gomes had journeyed around India to find the family of a deceased young girl whose sketchbook he had found in a Jaipur hospital. After 4 years of travelling, this culminated in a book that included the girl’s drawings of crayoned mountain ranges, and his photographs of places she had imagined in them, but had probably never been to. Photography here bridges the space between fact and fiction, and this work elevates photographs from mere records of memories to objects that trigger memories and feelings.
5. Edible Archives
Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar & Prima Kurien | At Cabral Yard
Here is a project serving art on a plate, quite literally. Edible Archives attempts to bring focus on varieties of indigenous rice that are inexorably being replaced by new hybrid varieties. For this, the Edible Archives team has been travelling all over India to source local varieties and turning them into delicious meals. Stop by this unassuming food stall at Cabral Yard and archive this in your memories forever.6. Lost in Transition
Bapi Das | At Aspinwall House
An erstwhile autorickshaw driver presents the threads of life on 8 hand-embroidered pieces at the Kochi Biennale. These are images that would cross his rear-view mirror and windows when he would drive around Kolkata, India. Intricate needlework and collaged pieces of fabric with a distinctive yellow-and-green rickshaw takes centerstage in the work. And as if to bring light to the metaphor, it takes a magnifying glass that hangs next to his artwork to appreciate what is lost to the naked eye.
7. Distance is a State of Mind
Julie Gough | At Pepper house
A site-specific room installation at Pepper House, ‘Distance is a State of Mind’ is set facing the sea. It was created in response to the artist’s stay in Kochi, which reminded her of her history and culture as Tasmanian Aboriginal people, sharing the coastal living and oppressive past. The room is set with giant piles of rubble, necklaces made of shells, black crows made from dyed coir, all elements—in Kerala or Tasmania—having in common a single ocean we all share along with the night sky and stars.
8. The Body Dialogues
Lakshmi Madhavan | Kashi Art Gallery
This artwork is tucked away in the far end of Kashi Art Gallery, so only a few experience it. It asks you to use your own body as a living art object as you are asked to stand in front of four mirrors that are labelled ‘Everybody‘, ‘Somebody’, ‘Anybody’ and ‘Nobody’.
It takes you and your gaze into the art itself as you follow the instructions of a voice.
The work is almost spiritual where the body is dismantled both physically and conceptually mapping the journey from ‘every/some/any/no’ to merely a body, represented by the shattered mirror around.
P.S. A bonus: keep an eye out for Sue Williamson's Message from the Atlantic Passage'. It's worth it!
When: December 12, 2018—March 29, 2019
Price: Tickets are for ₹100, issued only at Durbar Hall and Aspinwall House offline. Buy them online here
Note: A single ticket allows 3 entries on a day into Aspinwall House [A different day will require a new ticket] and 1 entry to all other venues. One ticket can be used across as many days till you exhaust the entries.
Entry to all venues FREE on Mondays.
You can go for a free guided tour which takes place on all days, once at 11am and at 3pm