When Art came to Academia

Kochi Biennale Foundation and the Backwaters Collective partner at conference of ideas 

Kochi, July 15:  The parallel streams of two Kochi-based institutions arrived at a logical confluence on Friday as the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) joined hands with the academic community Backwaters Collective to launch the fifth Annual Conference on Metaphysics and Politics.

Inaugurating the four-day conference that explores the corpus of India’s intellectual heritage for solutions to contemporary issues, the Honourable Mayor of Kochi Smt. Soumini Jain welcomed the coming together of art and academia and noted that it would help cement the city’s status into a powerhouse of scholarship and culture.

The Mayor then received the first copy of India and the Unthinkable, a compilation of the discussions and findings of previous Backwaters Collective conferences edited by eminent scholars Prof. Vinay Lal and Prof. Roby Rajan. The book was released on Friday by Swami Rithambarananda of the Sivagiri Mutt.

“This work is the first of many that tries to understand how the spiritual, intellectual, cultural and philosophical traditions and resources of Indic civilisation can be deployed to think ethically about today’s politics and help in seeking answers to seemingly intractable conflicts,” said Prof. Lal, a founding member of the Backwaters Collective.

“The Collective’s collaboration with the KBF is but an extension of this logic, which seeks to integrate the visions of different schools of thought with both ‘Eastern Reason’ as expounded by reformative thinkers like Sree Narayana Guru and his contemporaries and the best of the Western academic canon,” he added, noting that the conference would be geared to arrive at a specific understanding of conflict and its resolution.

The sentiment was echoed by distinguished theorist and political psychologist Ashis Nandy. “This is not a product of conventional academic exercise. It is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary venture that seeks to extend the perimeters of two disciplines and relate them to the problems afflicting the world today,” said Nandy, speaking at an Open Session following the inauguration.

The discussion session saw thought-provoking presentations by Prof. Lal as also KBF representatives Riyas Komu and Amar Kanwar on the roughly concurrent rise and growth of the Kochi Muziris Biennale and the Backwaters Collective and the prospects for furthering this partnership in the coming years.

“We have always been keen on exploring forums for discourse, the unfettered exchange of ideas and writing new narratives to contribute to India’s vast cultural landscape,” said Komu, co-founder of India’s only Biennale and Secretary, KBF, outlining the rationale for the collaboration.


“Kerala is a chapter in Roman history, but it ought to be Rome that has a chapter in Kerala’s storied past. That rich tradition of cosmopolitanism and intellectualism is what the Biennale taps into, draws from and, indeed, adds to,” he added, referencing the famous quote by Kesari Balakrishna Pillai.   

Salim Kumar, General Secretary of the Mumbai-based socio-cultural organisation Sree Narayana Mandira Samiti (SNMS) – the parent concern of the Backwaters Collective and sponsors of the annual conference – was also in attendance on Friday.

The scholarly conclave, which will run till Monday, July 18 at Le Meridien, Kochi, will also see participation from such renowned scholars as Prof. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Prof. J. Devika, Prithvi Chandra Shobhi and Aseem Srivastava among a litany of luminaries.

Among the eclectic and thought-provoking topics to be discussed will be hypotheses generated on social organisation by ancient Indian literature, insights into climate change drawn from the traditions of aboriginal people as also issues connected to phenomenology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethnic strife and its resolution.

The conference is also supported by the Tata Trusts and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. 

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