2016 Biennale veering to be a blend of tradition & contemporaneity

Curator Shetty busy meeting artists across globe in run-up to concept

New Delhi, Sep 21: India’s only biennale looks set to turn a new leaf with the 2016 curator of the global contemporary art festival currently exploring the prospect of blending literary and performing arts sensibilities into its upcoming edition in a big way. 

Even as the aesthetics of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) are in a nascent stage now when its third chapter is 15 months away, Sudarshan Shetty, the curator, is busy meeting musicians and dancers besides artists around the globe in his bid to shape up the concept of the grand Kerala event that has already gained international repute. 

“I won’t make a mission statement at this stage, but I can tell you that it will be even more a ‘people’s biennale’ this time,” the middle-aged Mumbaikar said about his perception about KMB-3, slated to begin on December 12 next year. “The two editions of the biennale we had so far were outstanding in their conceptualization and execution. It would be tough to raise the bar further. But it’s interesting—and that’s what is expected of me.” 

The Mangalore-born contemporary artist, famously known for his enigmatic sculptural installations, recalled a well-known Ratan Thiyam statement, noting that the sexagenarian experimental Manipuri theatre-person always used ancient stage dynamics in contemporary context, thus proving that tradition never implied staleness. 

“Tradition is not like water in a stagnant pool, but it is like a waterfall. This is a famous statement of Ratan Thiyam. I am greatly inspired by it and it will be reflected in my curation,” he added.   

It is with this rearview that Shetty has been touring the world as the artistic director of the third KMB. “I just am back from travels across Europe,” he revealed. “Shortly, I will be leaving for the East…to China and Japan.” 

Pertinently, Shetty had himself been a participant in the debut KMB of 2012—thus having known the pulse and seen the growth of the pioneering festival since its start. While the over three-month-long first edition had 80 artists from 23 countries, the second, which concluded in March this year, featured 100 main installations by 94 artists from 34 countries on display for 108 days. 

So, will there be a striking rise in the number of artists for the 2016 KMB? “See, there won’t be a huge rise in the venues at the biennale. Nor can a notable jump in the number of artists be counted as a defining scale of eminence. I can still say that street art and students’ participation would be one of the focal features of the upcoming edition,” pointed out the 54-year-old alumnus of Mumbai’s prestigious Sir JJ School of Art. 

Last weekend, Shetty was in the national capital at a get-together of the artistic fraternity across the country. A ‘Meet The Curator’ function convened by the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) on Saturday evening saw him being formally introduced to a crowd of select invitees that included the Who’s Who of Indian art, culture, literature, cinema and academics, besides a fair sprinkling of representatives from various embassies and consulates.

KBF founders Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, speaking at the function, ran through the history of their struggles ahead of the first KMB where the two Mumbaikar-Malayalis were co-curators. 

Komu, in his 30-minute power-point presentation, also shed light at the evolution of the aesthetics of the biennale, the subsequent enrichment of its editions and the history of growth of its patronage and worldwide recognition. 

The KBF also acknowledged huge support from the patrons and supporters, including the state government, for making the biennale happen. “We thank everyone for making it happen and do seek support from all to continue it as a project ‘serving people’ through art,” he added.

The other speakers were artists Jitish Kallat (also the artistic director of KMB-2), art patron Kiran Nadar, top bureaucrats Amitabh Kant and Venu Vasudevan, veteran visual artists Gulammohammed Sheikh, Vivan Sundaram and Subodh Gupta and KBF trustee Sunil V. 

Shetty’s name as the KMB-3 curator and artistic director was announced to the world on July 15, nearly a month after a high-powered panel of artists and prominent personalities made their unanimous decision. He was selected after a month-long deliberation by a panel under KBF comprising artists Amar Kanwar, Atul Dodiya, Bharti Kher and Jyothi Basu, art critic and curator Ranjit Hoskote, gallerist Shireen Gandhy and patron Ms Nadar, along with KBF trustees Krishnamachari, Komu and Sunil.



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