Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Talking about Art and Other Matters

At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, a noted psychoanalyst analyses the event, senior artists view appreciatively the work of upcoming talents, while an Indian writer meets her Dutch illustrator for the first time

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photos: Sudhir Kakar and his wife; Sirish Rao and his Canadian wife Laura Byspalko. Taken by Ratheesh Sundaram

Noted psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar's eyes widen as he views Anish Kapoor's work, 'Descension', at the Aspinwall House, one of the sites of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
In a large container, buried in the ground, water is swirling around, at great speed, thanks to a submerged propeller. At the centre, it creates a vortex, which is a hypnotic sight. “It is a beautiful work,” says Sudhir, who is accompanied by his German wife Katharina Poggendorf. “But Anish, as everybody knows, is a great artist.” 
As the couple step out on to the side facing the sea, Sudhir's eyes light up. “The beautiful thing about the Kochi Biennale is how rooted it is to the earth,” he says. “The sea is also nearby.” 
Biennales in the West are like their music, says Sudhir. The rules are fixed on how to play it. “But in Indian ragas, a lot of innovation takes place,” he says. “The Kochi Biennale is like an Indian raga.”

Feeling the Heat
The hot sun is taking a toll on Paris Viswanadhan, as he wipes his forehead with his handkerchief. “It is lunch time and I am also feeling hungry,” says the Paris-based artist. His grey hair is like a halo over his head. “There are some wonderful works that I have seen so far,” he says. “I am particularly impressed with the clay works of young Sahel Rahal.”
As he talks, a friend of his comes up. He is Deepak Ananth, an art historian, who teaches at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Caen, Normandy. “He is the first person to do an in-depth presentation of contemporary Indian art in Europe,” says Viswanadhan.
Asked his opinion about the Biennale, Deepak says, “It has been beautifully curated.”

A Happy Supporter
Another person, who agrees with Ananth, is Malayali artist Balan Nambiar. “The selection of the art works has been very good,” he says. “There is a wide variety. And today, in the international community, Indian art is being regarded as pre and post-Kochi Biennale. That’s how big an impact the Biennale has made abroad. We are lucky it is being held in Kerala. I have given unstinted support to [founders] Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu from day one. So I am very happy to be here.”

A Writer meets her Illustrator
The Bangalore-based poet Mamta Sagar exclaims, “I have been searching for you all over.” And then she hugs the Dutch artist Juul Kraijer. Mamta had loved the work of Juul, which she saw on the Internet. Then she contacted Juul through e-mail, and the latter did the cover of Mamta's second book of poems in Kannada called 'Heige Haaleya Meile Haader' (‘Like this the song’). But they were meeting for the first time at the Biennale.
Juul is married to Aji V.N., an artist who was born in Thiruvananthapuram. They met when Juul came to Thiruvananthapuram, and fell in love. Now, they have a small daughter and the couple lives in Rotterdam. His daughter knows only to speak in Dutch. “But they are going to stay at my home in Thiruvananthapuram for a few weeks,” says Aji.

Acrobats doing a Balancing Act
At the Vasco Da Gama square, at Fort Kochi, on a high wire, there are fiberglass figures of colourful acrobats. One stocky male has a woman balancing her head over his, while he holds a cub tiger under his arm. He has hoofs for feet. And there are a few other men and women like this.
A couple who is fascinated by this work are the Vancouver-based Sirish Rao and his Canadian wife Laura Byspalko. They run the annual Indian Summer Festival of literature, music and films. When told the name of Gulammohammed Sheikh, as the artist who made it, Sirish says, “He is a great man. So, it's no wonder that this is a striking work.”

Endless Patience
You have to hand it to Anish Kapoor, one of the Britain's top artists, who has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth and has an estimated fortune of 100 million pounds. The shoot for an international TV channel, in the garden of Aspinwall House, takes a long time to start, because of technical glitches. But Anish keeps his cool and waits patiently for things to fall into place.
The Indian artist Subodh Gupta is walking past with his wife Bharti Kher. But when he sees Anish, he rushes up to take a snap of him on his mobile. Anish gives a friendly wave. It is difficult to visualise some of our prima donnas in the cultural world behave in a similarly calm and humble manner.

Express Special a Hit
Former Prime Minister IK Gujral’s nephew’s wife, Feroze Gujral, an art aficionado, is going gaga at the four-page special on the Biennale, brought out by The New Indian Express. “It looks lovely,” she says. “It is so nice you are doing so much to promote the arts. I am impressed.” Spanish student Elena Brunete, who has a copy, says, “It’s wonderful. The photos look good.” Another impressed person is British artist Hew Locke. “It looks nice,” he says.

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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