By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Curator Anita Dube (left, with microphone) in the hall which contains the work of Gond-couple Subhas and Durgabai Vyam; Massive tyre: Installation work by Danish artist EB Itso. Pics by Albin Mathew
Curator Anita Dube sounds hoarse. “I have been working till 3 a.m. for the past few days,” she says, as she starts a preview tour of the Kochi Muziris Biennale on December 11. And the first stop is a building called the ‘Coir Godown’. This was the original name given to it during the time when the Aspinwall Company (founded in 1867) was functioning at the Fort Kochi location.
But Anita’s voice is sombre as she shows the textile works of the artist Priya Ravish Mehra. “Priya had focused on the marginalised community of Rafoogars of Najidabad, Uttar Pradesh,” says Anita. “I wanted to pay homage to an artist and a colleague who is no longer there.” Priya had died in May this year of cancer at the age of 57.
In a nearby room, Mexican artist Tania Candiani has transformed a traditional weaving loom into a musical instrument with strings. An assistant plays the strings and creates a sound similar to the sitar.
Noted photographer Sunil Janah (1918-2012) has shown searing photographs of the Bengal Famine of 1943. “The mood will change from building to building,” says Anita. “Because we are living in very dark times.”
At one section, when Anita climbs up the stairs, she says, “The upstairs rooms are apocalyptic. There is the work of an artist called Radendo Milak and Anju Dodiya, who focuses on the battle of the sexes.”
Even as she talks, nails are being hammered in, and work goes on. Manoj Nair, Editorial Director of the Biennale says, “The work started late because of the floods, and so many of the carpenters and electricians were not available, as they were busy trying to repair their own homes.”
One of the exhibits which will have resonance is the work by Sue Williamson, which consists of several white T-shirts. “These belonged to people who were sent on slave ships from Kochi to work in South Africa,” says Anita. “Sue did research and found out their names.” On the shirts Sue has printed the following: Name: Jacob. Place of birth: Malabar. Age: 12. Seller: Antony. Buyer: Aram. “Sue has dipped the shirts in a moat in South Africa and dirtied them,” says Anita.
What is going to be an eye-catcher is a huge tyre, weighing 370 tonnes, and made by JK Tyres, which is hanging from a height at the centre of Aspinwall House. “This is called developmental mobility and the concept is by Danish artist EB Itso,” says Anita. “The world has invented the wheel and he wants to show the oppressive nature of the discovery as we go forward.” This is set to to become ‘The Spectacle’ of the Biennale.
Another project which is bound to create an impact is by the Gond artist-couple Subhas and Durgabai Vyam. It is a stunning work, where the entire four walls of a hall are filled with marine plywood etchings. “They are telling the stories about their myths, and their lives,” says Anita. “It is a world full of animals and people. Every inch of the walls has been covered with their work, the opposite of minimalism.”
This sampling seems to indicate that this Bienalle is also headed in the same direction as the previous Biennales: a sumptuous feast for the eyes and plenty of food for thought.
(The New Indian Express, Page 1, Kerala editions)