On the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Institution

Biennale’s prime movers discuss its impact, inspirations and institutional practices

New Delhi, Aug 31: The story of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) is the story of an artist-lead movement to establish both a space for the regeneration of the Indian cultural landscape and a platform for engagement with contemporary complexities.

The compelling narratives behind that story – shaped over two editions and with a third iteration beginning December 12 – were recounted on Tuesday over the course of an evening conversation at Gulmohar Hall, Indian Habitat Centre, between its chief artistic, administrative and political impulses.

Titled ‘Kochi-Muziris Biennale: A Cultural Investment in Diversity’, the discussion – part of the ongoing fourth edition of the Lila PRISM lecture series – brought together KMB co-founder and Director of Programmes Riyas Komu and two of the Biennale’s staunchest supporters, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member M.A. Baby and Dr Venu V, the Principal Secretary of Tourism in Kerala.

Noting that KMB has already had a multi-layered impact not just on the city of Kochi but on society as a whole, Baby said, “The Kerala government has earmarked a budget of Rs 7 crore for the upcoming edition and has also decided to provide a permanent home to India’s only Biennale.”

Terming the Biennale a “game changer” in the state from the perspectives of art, economics and education, Dr Venu commented that the deeply-ingrained intuitional practices and ethics had helped the KMB make a profound impact beyond the possibilities now afforded by its reputation as an art extravaganza of rigour and renown.

“This was a provocation that Kerala needed,” Dr Venu said, crediting KMB founders Komu and Bose Krishnmachari for conceptualising an initiative that has come to represent the individuality of its host city and has had a trickledown effect on its institutions.  

“Kochi is home to 30 different communities, speaking 16 different languages, all within an area of four square kilometers,” said Komu. “After the first edition, ‘Biennale’ had become a bona fide word in Malayalam.”

Artists from across the world have attempted to address issues posed by cultural legacy, he said, pointing to the rich character and cosmopolitan heritage of Kochi as inspirations in KMB’s explorations of art’s diverse tapestry.

“The conversation about contemporary art and culture must increase and be inclusive. Art goes beyond paintings, installations and sculptures,” Komu said, referencing the inclusion of Chilean poet-revolutionary Raul Zurita and celebrated cartoonist Unny, among a host of other artistes across disciplines, in KMB’16.

Everything the KMB and the Kochi Biennale Foundation does works towards this intention,” he said.

KMB’16 will run for 108 days from December 12, 2016, to March 29 next year. 

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