Monday, November 24, 2014

The Art of Curating

Jitish Kallat, the artistic curator of the 2014 Kochi Muziris Biennale, talks about his experiences

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

In October, 2013, things were going well for artist Jitish Kallat. He had just returned after opening his own individual shows at the Galerie Templon in Paris, and the San Jose Museum of Art at California. Looking ahead, he had several plans for the next few months, including displaying his works at other places. As he was working in his studio at Byculla, Mumbai, he received a call.

The called asked him to switch on the speaker phone. And then the voices of eight people could be heard. They were the members of the Artistic Advisory Board of the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF): Geeta Kapur, art historian, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, museum director, Feroze Gujral, Director, Gujral Foundation, Abhay Maskara, Curator and Gallerist, and artists Sheela Gowda and Balan Nambiar, Riyas Komu, Secretary, KBF, and Bose Krishnamachari, President, KBF.

They asked Jitish whether he would like to become the curator of the 2014 Kochi Muziris Biennale. “Yes,” said Jitish. “But please give me some time to think over it.” There was a collective response, “Only one day. Otherwise, you will change your mind.” Just then the line went dead.

After a 24-hour reflection, and discussions with family and acquaintances, Jitish replied in the affirmative. “It was an instinctive decision and I always do everything on instinct,” he says, while sipping tea at a hotel in Fort Kochi.

And his life has been on a whirl, ever since, especially in the past six months. He has gone to Australia, Japan, Taiwan, many countries in the Middle East and south-east Asia, France, Germany, UK, USA, and the Netherlands in search of work that would be suitable for the Biennale.

Thus far, about 90 artistes from 30 countries have been selected. “Every artist represents something at a deeper level,” he says. “Collectively, it is not just a list, but an energy field of ideas.”

India will have a fair representation, with more than 30 artistes taking part. “I have somebody as old and senior as KG Subramanyan and Namboodiri and somebody as young as Unnikrishnan who is in his early twenties,” says Jitish. “That is the bandwidth. I don't think of age, person, community or country while selecting an art work.”

Asked about the theme, the cerebral Jitish says, “In the 15th century, there was great astronomical and mathematical activity in Kerala to locate the human being in the cosmos. It is now called the Kerala School of Mathematics and Astronomy. Simultaneously, there took place the much known history of maritime trade and navigation. The shores of Kochi become protagonists in a certain moment of human change and evolution. To understand the present, one should reflect not on the historical, but the cosmological, as well.”

Incidentally, several sites of the inaugural edition will be used. They include Aspinwall House, David Hall, the Durbar Hall, and the Pepper House. “Some new sites will be added,” says Jitish. These include the Mohammed Ali Warehouse and a lived home, where the art work will be placed in a domestic environment. 

The Biennale will be inaugurated on December 12. “What you will see on that day is the result of everybody's efforts in the KBF, in terms of infrastructure, team work and resource mobilisation,” says Jitish. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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