Fort Kochi, a natural and cultural hub, that has over the years absorbed the stories of its European and local residents, is now set to welcome novel visual narrations by artists and designers from across the country and beyond, for the fifth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Initially scheduled to open on December 12, 2022, the event, perhaps mirroring the uncertainty and ambivalence apparent in the past few years, was postponed at the nth hour due to organisational challenges. While smaller programmes and exhibitions such as the Students’ Biennale, the Invitations Programme, the Satellite Exhibitions and the IDAM Exhibition opened across 12 different venues in Kochi on the initially determined date, its main venues—Aspinwall House, Anand Warehouse, and Pepper House—opened to the public on December 23, 2022, across multiple locations in Fort Kochi and Ernakulum in Kerala, India.
The art biennale, titled In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, is curated by Singapore-based artist Shubigi Rao and will remain open to the public until April 10, 2023. It hosts the works of 80 artists and collectives. At the opening of the event, Rao shares, “If you walk through Aspinwall House, Pepper House, and Anand Warehouse, you will not see the works in isolation, but actually speaking to each other. That’s a really important part of who we are. None of us exists in isolation. When we write, when we think, when we make, when we speak, we are unconsciously drawing on the words and ideas of others. There is no such thing as a lone genius. That’s a myth. We are all part of a collective thinking.”
Mirroring the newfangled ability to hope communally—gracefully spreading across the globe with the re-initiation of events and exhibitions that were stalled—Shubigi Rao, in her curatorial note, shared, “A biennale can be so much more than a mere accumulation of coincidental collisions. As a bulwark against despair the biennale as commons may seem an impossible idea. But we remember the ability of our species, our communities, to flourish artistically even in fraught and dire situations, with a refusal in the face of disillusionment to disavow our poetry, our languages, our art and music, our optimism and humour.” In inviting creatives to forge new tales and for audiences and visitors to interpret new narratives, Rao hopes to replace the old normal with a new normal—one which is brave, one which pivots itself on the intention of continually transforming and evolving, and one which is more inclusive.
STIR was present on ground at the opening event on December 23, 2022. Here’s a glimpse of some of the artworks that stood out for us.
Cannot Be Broken and Won’t Live Unspoken (2022) by Anne Samat
Singapore-based contemporary artist Anne Samat’s Cannot Be Broken and Won’t Live Unspoken, stationed at Pepper House, is the recreation of traditional Indian deity. In building the sculpture, Samat explores the process of “cross-cultural cultivation, desire, and the nurturing hand of the maker.” The artist, in an attempt to invite devotion that is driven by desire, derives inspiration from a range of sources—plastic toys from her childhood, rangoli patterns drawn on the floors in both India and Malaysia during Diwali, authentic textile weaves, and heavy and rowdy tools. As a result, Cannot Be Broken and Won’t Live Unspoken invokes both feminine and masculine energies.
Brothers, Fathers and Uncles by Devi Seetharam
Indian artist Devi Seetharam’s portraitures are an abstract replication of men dominating public spaces. A series of her artworks, spread across the gallery space in Aspinwall House, comprises artworks created by Seetharam since 2016. “It is a series that attempts to tackle the patriarchy within my own community in Kerala,” the artist shares with STIR at the Biennale.
Almanac of a Lost Year by Vasudevan Akkitham
Vasudevan Akkitham, an artist who lives and works in Baroda in Gujarat, presents 365 small watercolour paintings, delineating the period from 2020 to 2021. Each painting marks a day of the year that followed the initial announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown. The paintings are divided into three segments—departure, journey and arrival.
The Sea is a Blue Memory by Priyageetha Dia
Priyageetha Dia, an arts practitioner based in Singapore, presents her artistic vision through visual narratives that translate prominent historical occurrences into immersive environments. The Sea is a Blue Memory captures experiences of indentured labourers who migrated from India to Malaya’s rubber plantations under the British colonial rule.
Works by Johannes Heldén
Several works by visual artist, writer and musician Johannes Heldén, namely The Extintion Archive (Part I), Meditation: Water Avens, Encyclopaedia of Astroecology: Kochi-Muziris edition, Astroecology, Print from Astroecology, and Manta Ray adorn a section of the Aspinwall House. HIs installations prompt towards an alternate reality where individuals get absorbed into and become one with the natural world.
All is water and to water we must return by Sahil Naik
Goa-based artist Sahil Naik’s All is water and to water we must return is a commemoration of Goa’s Curdi village. It is based on the artist’s experience in the village in the past nine years. The village submerges in water and emerges every year to reveal the architecture and landscape that lies below it.
Lexicon and Massacre by Iman Issa
Works by Yohei Imamura
Yohei Imamura, an artist hailing from Kanagawa, Japan, presents 10 new works at the Anand Warehouse. They serve as an attempt to depict to the expansive sceneries of mountainous regions. Informed by his practice of mountain climbing, each hand-prited layer in his artworks serves as a metaphor to the steps one takes to scale the mountain, reach the summit.
Day Zero and Neti by Pranay Dutta
Pranay Dutta, an artist who splits his time between Delhi and Calcutta, specialises in deconstructing elements from real life and reconfiguring them to resemble dystopian mindscapes in black-and white imagery. His video installations builds a cinematic narrative which is wrought with darkness and where the only sign of life is apparent through the slowly tricking water.
Kochi-Muziris Biennale will remain open to the public from December 23, 2022 to April 10, 2023.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.