Sudarshan Shetty, the curator of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, talks about his hopes and aspirations, as well as the themes
Photo by Albin Mathew
By Shevlin Sebastian
The auto-rickshaw driver stepped into the Pepper House at Fort Kochi and scanned the people sitting in the open-air café. Then he spotted a bearded man sitting at one corner with his wife and daughter. He went up to the man and said, “My name is Moosa Bava. Are you the curator of this year’s Biennale?”
Sudarshan Shetty nodded. “I enjoyed the first two editions,” he said. “If you need any suggestions about artistes from South America, please let me know. Many are my friends.”
An amazed Sudarshan says, “This can only happen in India. And, indeed, the people of Fort Kochi have embraced the Biennale to their hearts.”
At the Aspinwall House, the main centre of the 2016 Kochi Muziris Biennale, on a humid November afternoon, Sudarshan has a look of anticipation and nervousness on his face. “The past 15 months have been the most hectic,” he says. “I have never worked so hard.”
He has travelled to numerous countries and looked at the works of more than 300 artistes. Now the final list has been whittled down to 97 artistes, from countries like Russia, France, USA, Slovenia, Poland, Norway, Scotland, Argentina, China, Nigeria, Japan, Latvia, Chile, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia.
And, not to forget, 36 Indian artistes, including Abhishek Hazra, Orijit Sen and Ravi Agarwal.
In some of his choices, Sudarshan has opted to go outside the art world. While Raul Zurita is a poet, Anamika Haksar is a theatre person, and Sharmistha Mohanty is a writer. Apart from them, there will be craftspeople, performers, film-makers, muralists, painters and sculptors.
As for the theme, it is titled 'Forming in the pupil of an eye'. “This comes from a Vedic idea that when a sage looks at the world, he assimilates all the multiplicities of the world through that one moment of vision,” says Sudarshan. “That vision also reflects back into the world.”
Indeed, the curator wanted to focus on multiplicities: of language, culture, experiences, people and visions. “We are different, but, ultimately, we all are one,” he says. “And I wanted all the works to have conversations with each other.”
Even as he talks, work is going on in full swing: workmen pounding nails into walls, iron rods being cut with a cutter, new tubelights being fitted, even as some walls get a fresh coat of paint.
Right at the centre of Aspinwall House a showpiece pyramid is coming up, made of cowdung and wood. This is being made by Aleš Šteger, a celebrated Slovenian poet, essayist, and novelist. “It is a homage to all the exiled poets of the world throughout history,” says the Mumbai-based Sudarshan, a JJ School of Art alumni, whose paintings, sculptures and installations have been exhibited in London, Paris, New York, Oslo, and Fukuoka, Japan.
As for the question of whether the Kochi Biennale has established itself in the international art community, Sudarshan says, “Absolutely. Everybody knows about it. In such a short span, it has gathered a huge reputation, and has become one of the most important biennales in Asia.”
The Kochi Muziris Biennale runs from December 12 to March 29, 2017.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)