KOCHI, INDIA - In an unusually warm and humid December in the beautiful port town of Kochi, Kerala – India’s historic first Biennale opened on the 12th of December. Art aficionados gathered from all over the country and abroad to a delightful array of contemporary art.
Aspinwall House, one of the historic sites that has been transformed into a contemporary art venue for Indias first Biennale.
Three years in the making, the Biennale is the brainchild of artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu and is a much-needed addition to broadening the milieu of art events in the country. Modeled on the Venice biennale, the exhibition was set in spaces across Kochi, Muziris and surrounding islands with site-specific installations in public spaces, heritage buildings and once abandoned structures.
Artwork on exhibition at Kochi-Muziris.
I reached Kochi a day earlier to a slightly disorganized start to the Biennale. The event has seen its bumps with controversies over funding and government backing, as well as the expected logistical obstacles that come with being the first of its kind. However, the pioneering and positive spirit of the festival buoyed naysayers and brought out an impressive gathering of collectors, artists and gallerists.
Amid the historic sites of Aspinwall House, Durbar Hall, Pepper House and a number of other locations, leading South Asian artists like Atul Dodiya, Amar Kanwar, Ananth Joshi, Sudershan Shetty, Valsan Kolleri, Tallur L.N., Sheela Gowda, as well as a good representation of international artists, displayed fresh and interesting artworks to the backdrop of these beautiful historic buildings. Housed in the main venue, Aspinwall was a special project that included works from artists from the BRIC countries; including a compelling video project by Brazilian artist Pablo Lobato entitled ‘Castell.’
The evenings have been pleasant, with informal gatherings at dinner in the smattering of local restaurants like the Hotel Seagull and Malabar House, where the local beers have helped spur on enthusiastic conversations about the state of the art ecosystem in India, with pledges of new initiatives and ideas forming to reinvigorate this space.
All in all, it has been an enriching experience to be here and there is a general mood of excitement to be a part of a growing and evolving art community.