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An eclectic event modeled on the Venice Biennale
Slated to be held in various historic venues in Kerala, The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a significant development on the contemporary art of India. The vision of its futuristic organizers, set to come into reality, envisions India’s first major biennale event of a global scale and scope, emulating those in Berlin, Liverpool, Venice and Dakar. They intend a grand showcase of projects, events and exhibitions involving world renowned artists across a wide variety of mediums like painting, sculpture, installation, new media, film and performance art.

The Biennale is essentially a reminder of glorious history. It looks to connect modern art practices to the heritage of Kochi as well as its mythical past. The history of the port alongside the Muziris Heritage or conservation project will infuse meaning and enhanced value to the entire showcase. Muziris area, specifically Kodungallur and Paravur, will serve as sites for public displays of sculptures. Kochi is among the few Indian cities where pre-colonial traditions of captivating cultural pluralism still flourish. They pre-date the post-Enlightenment concepts of cultural pluralism, multiculturalism and globalization that can be traced to Muziris.

The site is currently under excavation, and it’s vital to explore and also retrieve the past memories in context of the present status, in order to posit alternatives to cultural and political discourses emanating from the specific histories of America and Europe. With it, a dialogue for a new aesthetics and politics deeply enmeshed in the very Indian experience, albeit open to the winds blowing in from far-away worlds, is well possible, the organizers believe. The KMB communications director, Michelangelo Bendandi, has been quoted as saying “The biennale is a multi-discipline festival of contemporary art, and it is city-wide, so the artists participating are not restricted to the large enclosed venues. Murals, street art, sound pieces and projections will be located in public places around the city, not just at biennale venues.”

Listing the Kochi-Muziris Biennale among the top cultural events to be seen and visited this year, The Forbes magazine had mentioned it as ‘India’s largest contemporary public art event that will display some of the best works by international artists ranging from film installation to painting sculpture, new media and performance art – an event aimed at recreating the cultural legacy of the modern day Kochi and its mythical predecessor — the ancient port Muziris.’ The Wall Street Journal columnist Margherita Stancati had earlier stated in a news article: “Artists and art lovers often complain that not enough is being done to promote contemporary art in the country outside a commercial framework. As a result, the room for discourse on contemporary art in India has so far been relatively limited. We need to create that space, according to Riyas Komu. The start date for the event - a ‘first step’ in that direction’ - has been set: a prophetic 12/12/12. The idea behind it is to provide a platform for contemporary art in India that is neither a gallery not a trade fair.”

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale aims at creating a new idiom of cosmopolitanism combined with modernity rooted in the lived and living experience of an ancient trading port, which, for over six centuries, has been a crucible of many communal identities, apart from creating a comprehensive platform for contemporary Indian art. An introductory note elaborates: “It will introduce contemporary international visual art theory and practice to India, showcase and debate new Indian and international aesthetics and art experiences and enable a dialogue among artists, curators, and the public; it seeks to reflect the new confidence of Indian people who are slowly, but surely, building a new society that aims to be liberal, inclusive, egalitarian and democratic.” The time has come to tell the story of cultural practices distinct to the Indian people and local traditions, practices and discourses shaping the idea of India, it emphasizes.

The Biennale will involve people from across the cross-sections of contemporary art world, including top artists like Atul Dodiya, Bani Abidi, Zakir Hussain, Tallur L.N., Alfredo Jaar, Fiona Tan, Gabriel Orozco, and Wangechi Mutu, to name a few. Young and upcoming practitioners will also get an opportunity to display their talent alongside the more known international figures. In a way, the platform seeks to project the new energy of artistic practices in the subcontinent.

The custodianship of a sustainable and solid platform for contemporary Indian art is central to the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s purpose and activity. It works towards promoting broad consensus on investment in art infrastructure and ensuring public access to it across the country by initiating a continued dialogue between public, Government and international arts institutions and artists themselves. The overall emphasis is on encouraging mass participation through debates, discussions, seminars, talks, workshops, screenings, educational activities and site-specific installations, enlivening heritage buildings, and reanimating disused houses. Through a curious collation of contemporary art practices from across the globe, this ambitious extravaganza of contemporary art seeks to celebrate the participative spirit of art, even while invoking the truly historic cosmopolitan legacy of the new modern metropolis and that of the ancient port of Muziris, its mythical predecessor, in the tropical south of the country.