Art Quarter

The first Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which starts today, will celebrate contemporary art over the next three months

On the historic date of 12/12/12, Fort Kochi which houses several heritage structures including the oldest European church in India will host the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Over the next three months, colour and craft would be on display on the weather-beaten walls along the narrow streets of Fort Kochi and the nearby Mattanchery, known for the Jewish synagogue, apart from renovated warehouses and a few art galleries. Artists of all ilk and medium, students of fine arts, biennale lovers from across the world and connoisseurs of art will join the event, known as the celebration of contemporary visual art.

Unlike other international events staged at swanky venues, the biennale has gone a little wild in search of space for artists to unwrap their genius. The prime venue is the sprawling property of Aspinwall and Company Limited, which was established in 1867. Its unused buildings, which had been warehouses for the spices business, have suddenly come under the grip of the biennale rage. Whitewashed walls have become canvasses for several artists, while others are using the halls and open grounds to shape their sculptures and installations.

"The buildings and compounds were unattended for quite some time. We had cleared the compound of shrugs, did minor repairs and ensured power supply," says artist Bony Thomas, trustee of the biennale.

Ditto is the case of a dilapidated warehouse and abandoned dockyard at Kalvetty near Mattanchery, which had been a hub of trade in the past, and is now a creative hub for artists. Delhi-based artists M Pravat, Navid Tschopp, Sayantan Maitra Boka and Susanta Mandal have marked the warehouse, now known as Pepper house, as the spot where their site-specific installations will be created.

To take part in the historic art jamboree, several students of fine arts have also joined the artists as assistants. Arun Vijayan, a young graduate in fine arts, has joined Portuguese artist Rigo 23 (Ricardo Gouveia), who is working on an installation. "Students and young artists are getting connected with several senior artists from across the globe. This exposure is really enriching," points out Vijayan.

What the biennale brings is not just paintings, but also installations, new media, performing art and sculptures. Indian sculptor Valsan Koorma Kollery is working on a sculpture that will exploit the potential of air and copper wire. The wire has been pleated in different shapes, infusing a particular rhythm. "In clay, you can see only an outer rhythm. In this sculpture of air and wire, one can see all the different layers," says Kollery. The artist uses a wide range of material including coconut husk, ant molls, fallen leaves and broken umbrellas to exploit their creative potential. On the other hand, Polish graffiti artist Stanislaw Szumski is engaged with walls at Fort Kochi streets.

As the name indicates, the first edition of the biennale has been given a historical touch by linking it with Muziris, an ancient port town 50 km away from Kochi, which is believed to have perished in the floods of 1341 AD.

According to the biennale co-ordinator Riyaz Komu, Muziris has given a new depth to the carnival. "Kochi-Muziris Biennale is going to be a catalyst in our culture. The event is going to be a celebration of culture and colours. The local communities as well as the participating artists would get an opportunity to learn about contemporary art. It is not just about art, but about modern literature and films also," said Komu.

Thomas adds that there would not be any sale of works during the event. "Many artists would return after a few days, but their work would be on display in Kochi till March 13, 2013," he says.

As many as 84 artists, 44 of them from India, are participating in the event. The Kerala Government has allotted Rs 5 crore for the festival, although the organizers believe that the budget could shoot up to Rs 25 crore. The rest of the funds will be raised through sponsorship. Thomas adds that the biennale will support tourism as the global biennale-loving community will flock to see the works. "Kochi would be marked on the global biennale map with this event," says Thomas.

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