Monday, December 31, 2012

The East is rising!

Chris Dercon, the director of the Tate Modern Art GalleryLondon, is excited by the talent of South Indian artists and the enormous success of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Photo: Chris Dercon and his wife, Sonja Junkers, with MP P. Rajeev at Aspinwall House 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Chris Dercon, the director of the TateModern Art Gallery, went to see a video installation of the ‘Burmese resistance of 1988’ at Mattancherry. While there he saw four policemen who were taking down notes. “I asked them why they were doing so, and one of them said, ‘This is so interesting, I did not know about this resistance movement,’” says Chris. “He was jotting down impressions not because of his job, but as a human being. I was moved by that.”

Dercon has been very impressed by the art works at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the people who are attending it. “I have never seen so many families and young people at a biennale,” he says. “I wanted to read the text placed next to the exhibits, but I could not do so, because there was a crowd standing and reading it. It means that people are much more complex thinkers than before. They want to understand these art works.”

And although some have found the art works baffling, they have been drawn again and again to view them. “An acquaintance I met in Fort Kochi told me that his friend said, ‘My God, art in this biennale is mad, it is really mad,  but I have come three times already,’” says Dercon “I am not surprised that 75,000 people have visited the event.”

And Dercon, who had come to Kochi 20 years ago, has been taken aback by the tremendous changes in the city. “The place is booming,” he says. “There is much more of tourism. There are so many nice homestays in Fort Kochi, but the pollution is a problem. I cannot separate art from pollution. I love to see art polluting the world, but not plastic.”

He says that Kochi is on the verge of something special. “In the next few years, there should be a development of tourist and cultural infrastructure,” he says. “Local arts and handicrafts should be promoted. There should be social inclusion and ecology. If you can make a master plan whereby you can include these points, Kochi will become another Venice.”

Meanwhile, one indirect impact of the Kochi Biennale is that South Indian art has been placed on the global stage. “It is wonderful,” says Dercon. “I was much impressed by the painting of KP Reji and the installation work of Sumedh Rajendran.”

So, hopefully, one day, there will be exhibitions of South Indian art at the Tate, which receives five million visitors annually. And significantly, a large chunk of them are young people.

“They come to museums not to see art but to ask questions about sexuality, religion, economics and life,” he says. “This inner search is not only because of the decline of formal religion, but a loss of belief in politics and a feeling that there is nobody to represent them.”

Art today makes up for those feelings of loss. “It is touching on subjects which they feel unable to discuss with their friends, like identity and sexuality,” says Dercon. “There are some fantastic art works in this biennale which asks similar questions.”

Dercon has always been interested in Indian art. When he was the director of the Haus der Kunst (House of Art) inMunich, he organised an exhibition on Amrita Sher Gil (1913-41). “She was a young Indian artist who wanted to find a way to express her country in her art,” says Dercon. “She did not want to obey the rule that the art of the west is the dominant one. Amrita wanted to say that both [Pablo] Picasso and [Rabindranath] Tagore were her idols. Amrita took from the East and the West and was communicating back and forth.”

And Dercon is convinced that most Indian artists of today will be doing the same thing what Amrita did so many years ago.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 


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