Showcasing the creative artworks of Kochi Biennale after a four-year hiatus

Roja Jayaram/ Ganga R

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2022

The exquisite Arabian Sea on one side, with a historic seaport and a lighthouse on the other side to guide ships to the port; several jetties further inland where boats can be anchored - Kochi's natural beauty is breathtaking, whether on land or in the water. The allure of Kochi, a place that once enticed the Portuguese and later the Dutch, is further enhanced by its rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in the various architectural styles present throughout the city. It is here, amid the vibrant shores and its sociologically multicultural setting, that artists and sculptors from around the world have found a unique platform to exhibit their art through the 5th edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale.

Art enthusiasts from all over the world had already travelled down to Kochi when Kochi Muziris Biennale’s official Twitter handle announced that the event had been moved from its traditional opening day of December 12 to December 23. This decision received harsh criticism from the audience and artists alike. The curator of this edition, Shubigi Rao, and the artists criticized the organizational flaws and lack of transparency of the Biennale management and voiced their concerns as they were burdened by numerous issues. However, after this rough start and the pandemic which lasted for two years, the 5th edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale 2022 is now proceeding without any hitch. More than 80 contemporary artists from around the world are featured through their work in 14 venues in the historical sites of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, as well as Ernakulam in Kochi city.

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The theme of the 5th edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is " In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire." They believe that through art, they can amplify the voices of others, and the theme would demonstrate that creativity is a collective process. “In Our Veins, Flow Ink and Fire” is a metaphor for this idea of collective creativity and the energy of being an integral part of a larger social, political, and cultural whole. Following a four-year hiatus, the KMB now also offers student artists a platform in the form of a student biennale. This year's Students' Biennale, located across four sites in the Mattancherry area, was co-curated by seven emerging young curators. It features 62 projects by contemporary artists who have pushed the envelope in order to address urgent and current issues of our times.

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The venues chosen for the Biennale themselves are visually appealing; the walls, windows, doors, and a spectacular view of the sea entice art enthusiasts to explore their details. The majestic Aspin Wall House, which served as KMB's main venue, provided a beautiful backdrop for the Biennale, allowing visitors to connect with the rich history of its architecture as they wandered through its many galleries.

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As we entered the venue, we were surprised to see a sizable audience of all kinds of individuals from all corners of the world along with the locals. While a few younger ones strolled about the hallways with curious eyes, the elders were equally astounded by the art and had different questions. Two sisters, Louisa and Stephanie, from the Netherlands, who have been to Biennales all over the world, stated that their recent trip to the India and Kochi Biennale was one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking experiences they had ever had.

The sisters found themselves immersed in the creative atmosphere of the biennale, encountering and interacting with artists from all over India, as well as some from other countries. Through this unique experience, they were able to gain a newfound appreciation for the art and culture of India. Aparna from Palakkad, who arrived in Kochi only to attend the Biennale, shared that a day or two is not enough to appreciate the art on display. She expressed that she wished she had more time to explore the Biennale further, as there was so much to see. “When we read through the artworks, we realize that it cannot be grasped at one glance, the efforts taken by the artists and the time they have spent on this are truly admirable. My favourite work has to be Brothers, Fathers, and Uncles by Devi Seetharam,” shared Aparna.

We wandered the ancient halls of the Biennale venues for hours, totally absorbed, like the rest of the audience, in the abundance of art all around us. We were in awe of the sheer variety of artworks around us, each with its own story to tell.

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