Saturday, December 08, 2018

Down The Home Stretch

At Pepper House and Aspinwall House, artists work closely with volunteers and the Kochi Biennale Foundation team to get things ready for the opening on December 12 

Photos: Brazilian artist Vivian Caccuri; Bangladesh artist Marzia Farhana. Pics by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a humid afternoon, Brazilian artist Vivian Caccuri sits at a table in the cafe of the Pepper House, Fort Kochi. She is staring at her laptop, while beside it is a square keyboard. A featured artist of the Kochi Biennale, Vivian is giving finishing touches to her sound installation.

And it is a most unusual one. She has recorded a composition based on the sound of mosquitoes in Kochi. But no surprises to hear the whine of the Kochi mosquitoes is louder than their Brazilian counterparts.

A visitor says, “Malayalis, as well as Indians, are a loud people. So, that could be the reason why the local mosquitoes are louder.”

Vivian laughs and says, “Brazilians can be loud, too, but not in a pleasant way.” But there is a serious aspect to the ‘Mosquito Shrine’ installation. She is researching as to why people get annoyed when they hear the whine of mosquitoes in their ears. Vivian is trying to find answers in the history of America, Africa and Asia and also in the history of medicine. “The relationship between mosquitoes and people have evolved over the centuries,” she says.  

In her first visit to the city, Vivian has noticed a lot of similarities between the people of Brazil as well as Kerala. “In both places, the family plays a very important role,” she says. “The warmth of the people is also similar. Another commonality is the love for sweets.”

The visitor says, “Yes, we like sweets, but people are not sweet all the time.”

Vivian laughs again and says, “Absolutely true.”    

The Peacock as Metaphor

In a dimly-lit hall, at Aspinwall House, sitting on a chair and clearly taking a breather is Aasma M. Suresh. She is the daughter of the Hyderabad-based artist BV Suresh. Aaasma, who has just completed her masters in visual art from Ambedkar University, New Delhi, is helping her father for the first time.

There are kinetic, video and audio installations,” she says. “My dad has focused on the subjects of vigilance, mob violence and censorship. He works mostly with commonly-found objects, but for this show, he is using only cane and bamboo.”

Suresh has made a paper mache peacock. “It is a national bird but Dad has made it white to show that the different colours no longer exist in the country,” says Aasma. “In other words, diversity is being attacked. The body looks like a rough cut, like a bird who has undergone a post-mortem.”

Outside the hall, Suresh is standing under a tree.“There is a rising threat to artistic freedom in our country,” he says, as he recalls the harassment of writers like Perumal Murugan, artists like S. Chandramohan and the late M.F. Hussain as well as the killing of activists like Narendra Dhabolkar, NN Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. “Recently, I  made a film about this, but the organisers of a festival in Mumbai decided not to show it, to avoid any trouble,” says Suresh. “So now, artists are practising self-censorship.”

An artist from Dhaka

Another country where artists are increasingly facing threats and are even murdered is Bangladesh. "It's a different and difficult time not only in Bangladesh but all over the world," says the Dhaka-based artist Marzia Farhana.

But Marzia’s mood brightens when she talks about Kochi. “This is a highly energetic and cooperative place,” she says. “The people are engaged with art deeply. They show a lot of love when they work with artists and their works. I am so happy to see that.”  

Interestingly, her work is about the Kerala floods. Marzana is doing a multimedia installation, taking discarded materials from flood-affected areas. One of them is a blue refrigerator, which is hanging upside down from the ceiling. “I am taking a stand on the ecological catastrophe facing the planet,” says Marzia.

High-energy volunteers

Meanwhile, despite moments of self-censorship and rising religious fundamentalism, a group of young volunteers are milling around and having a laugh, even as they make animated conversation. Ritu Lohia has completed a course in architecture and a masters in interior design. The Hyderabad-based youngster says, “This is my first Biennale. I find it very exciting. I hope to meet interesting people.”

Somebody says, “Would you like to fall in love with an artist and get married?”

Rithu thinks about it for a moment and says, “I wouldn’t mind.”

Her Kozhikode-based friend, Hiba Ameena giggles and says, “I never expected such an answer from you.”

Why not?” says a smiling Ritu. “Artists are interesting people.”

Hiba nods. She runs a travel agency with her mother although she is a trained engineer. But she also has an interest in art. “I wanted to become a volunteer in the previous edition but I was not able to do so,” she says. “But I did visit the Biennale. This year I got selected. I am keen to work with artists and connect with all types of people.”  

One volunteer who stands out is Pavneet Singh, with his red turban. He looks vaguely familiar. “Weren’t you there in the last Biennale?” asks a visitor.

Yes, I was a volunteer then and I am back again,” says Pavneet, a qualified architect, who is from Chandigarh.

Asked what he did in the intervening period, Pavneet says, “I spent nearly nine months working for the Serendipity Art Festival in Goa, till February this year. Now I am in Kochi.”

Asked about whether he desired a regular job, and a steady salary, Pavneet says, “We don’t belong to the generation that wants to work full time. My parents are fine with it, but they told me I must feed myself, which I am doing. So no issues.” Another volunteer Anil Xavier, who is standing next to him, nods in agreement.

When the Gods have a meeting

But the London-based Naga artist Temsuyanger Longkumer has issues but it is with God. “When you look at history, there has always been a dark side to religion,” he says. “I am setting up a structure called ‘God’s Summit’. This is where the Gods of different religions are supposed to be holding a meeting and discussing what has been happening on earth.”

He has taken clips from one hundred films and documentaries. “I selected the films by looking at the topics that they are dealing with and also the words that have been said,” says Temsuyanger. Some of the films used including the recent box office hit, ‘Vendetta’. “After viewing the 90 minute programme, I want people to come to their own conclusions,” he says.
Indeed, from December 12, 2018 till March 29, 2019, around six lakh visitors will come to their own conclusions after seeing numerous artworks from all over the world.

India’s greatest art festival beckons.

Welcome to all!

Fast Files 

Cabral Yard: The Hub

The Pavilion at Cabral Yard will be a place where all types of dialogue will take place. Apart from a physical venue for programmes, it will be a space where ordinary people can participate. They can publicly display their work or any online content: from music, to film, literature to viral videos. Participants can speak or perform on open microphones, as well as write and draw on a chalkboard. The Kudumbashree volunteers will be running a community cafe.

Added attraction: Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn will be holding a six-hour daily workshop for 30 days inside Yard.

No of artists 

95. A majority of them are from the global South. According to the curator Anita Dube, the aim is to rectify an age-old imbalance in the art world that is heavily tilted towards the West.

Continent Break-up

Africa - 11
Asia - 57
Australia - 2
Europe - 15
North America - 8
South America - 1

No of women artistes
62. The Indian women artists include Anju Dodiya, Shambhavi Singh, Madhavi Parekh, Nilima Sheikh and Annu Palakunnathu Mathew

Some Themes

Gender Equality
Queer, black and feminist art

Art for Kerala

The Kochi Biennale will conduct a live auction of art works by 40 national and international artists on January 18, 2019. It will be held under through ARK (Art Rises For Kerala) in collaboration with SaffronArt. All proceeds will go to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund  

No of visitors expected

Over six lakh


Aspinwall House
Cabral Yard
David Hall
Durbar Hall
Kashi Art Cafe
Kashi Town House
Pepper House
TKM Warehouse
Map Project Space

Students Biennale

Out of 1500 applications from India and South Asia, 200 student-artists have been shortlisted to participate in the Students Biennale. They come from 80 public and private schools. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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