India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale returns for fifth edition
The fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, in the charming city of Kochi (formerly Cochin), was planned for 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic. Its main events, after much turbulence, opened in December 2022 and will be on view until April 2023. The theme of this edition is ‘In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire’, curated by artist-writer Shubigi Rao. Rao wrote her curatorial intent in 2019 and commented on how the vision evolved during the years of postponement. ‘I felt the urge to revisit and rewrite it, to reflect what was happening across the world. As it turned out, I didn’t have to and the reason was obvious – the issues that I had grappled with in the note remained as valid, now laid bare,’ she says. ‘The widening of the chasms of inequality, heightened redistribution of wealth from the majority world to the one percent, the continuing and devastating effects of human action on the environment, the spread of misinformation, populism and demagoguery – all these struggles remain. The strategies to survive through social isolation and fragmentation of community, especially through storytelling and the arts, became vital supports for large swathes of the world’s population.
Over 200 projects are spread across heritage properties, cafes, warehouses, galleries and public spaces. Featuring over 90 artists and collectives, over 40 new commissions, and a mix of international and local, emerging and established, surpassing lines and boundaries, the historic venues – Aspinwall House, Pepper House, and Anand Warehouse in the neighborhood of Fort Kochi – pulsate. with fervent anticipation.
The neighborhood of Jew Town is dotted with cafes, shops and boutiques selling local handicrafts and Jewish embroidery, and is marked by an endearing synagogue. A few venues like the TKM Warehouse have seven shows on display; multidisciplinary and of artists across borders. They include ‘Tangled Hierarchy 2’, presented by KNMA and curated by Jitish Kallat; South African artist, William Kentridge’s video projection titled Oh To Believe In Another World invoking the imagination of an alternate reality. Elsewhere, the Chennai Photo Biennale asks searing questions about belonging, community, and identity. These questions are expounded upon by Bhumi – presented by the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts and Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation (DBF) – where in the midst of the pandemic, rural artisans using traditional craftsmanship, channeled their community ethos for the ‘developed’ world to fathom and reflect upon.
Some solo exhibitions – ‘Anatomy of a Vegetable’ and ‘ZOBOP’ by Prasanta Sahu, and ‘Singed Not Burnt’ by Shahidul Alam – on display at the Mocha Art Café (their lemonade is fantastic) and Dutch Warehouse are provocative, urgent and beautiful. . Centering agriculture, farmers and the precariousness of their existence, Sahu’s work is a ‘rumination on fragile ecosystem’, while ‘ZOBOP’, provides an insightful rumination of everyday rural life, objects, memories and desires intertwined with the undeniable bio-political matrix. Ina Puri’s curatorial text reads: ‘From the epic horror of landscapes devastated by climate change to unflinching images of the ordinary man in the streets fettered by poverty, social inequality to make ends meet to the intimate images of strangers who have become friends over time, Shahidul Alam’s searing portraits bring alive a world that he has embraced as his own.
The Student’s Biennale features the work of young voices that speak to the most potent issues of these times, exuding a kind of hope that is critical, aspirational, and actionable.
Mario Souza, the head of programming, reflects on the intent and extent of what is to come: ‘We are looking at artists across the world, how they respond to their own socio-political contexts, and how they strategise and develop new methodologies and forms of coming together. It is also a post-pandemic edition in every sense of the word, rethinking the idea of the collective, intimacy, and the coming together of bodies. Solidarity is the anchor. Poetry, song, protest, assertion feeding into the idea of hope while also criticizing the status quo.
On a wall at the main venue (Aspinwall House), are the words ‘It’s Our Biennale’ in two languages, English and Malayalam, serving as a mnemonic cue. Kerala is a state like no other, and the biennale at Kochi is unequaled in its inclusivity. Kochi-Muziris Biennale exudes a sense of ‘ourness’, and embraces you into it.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale runs until 10 April 2023. kochimuzirisbiennale.org (opens in new tab)