• Decor
The art world is currently in the throes of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which began in December 2016 and will wrap up by the end of March. With time still left to visit and explore this international exhibition of contemporary art, we decided to find out first hand, how the Biennale has transformed and changed over the years, and what art means for India going forward. We were, therefore, delighted to have had a candid chat with none other than the co-founder of the Biennale, Riyas Komu, himself an accomplished painter, sculptor and photographer.

The recipient of numerous awards and accolades, Komu is currently displaying a series of oil paintings at the Kashi Art Café in Kochi; a collection with a number of striking pieces, especially one which features a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi from 1931. We caught up with the eminent artist to learn more about his perspective on the Biennale.

Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhi

How has the Biennale changed over its three editions?
If you look at the curatorial approach to the exhibition itself, it went from being distinctively site-specific (the 2012 edition was curated by Bose Krishnamachari and Komu) to a conceptual journey (the 2014 edition was curated by Jitish Kallat) to being philosophically, materially and politically engaged with the notion of time and multiple realities (the 2016 edition has been curated by Sudarshan Shetty).

But the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is more than just the art exhibition its name is hostage to. I would say that the Biennale has allowed patrons to experience art with a renewed freedom, looking to it for the social, cultural, political, and local contexts and surroundings that it addresses.

Through 'making as thinking,' the Biennale has opened up possibilities of a previously unknown type of engagement in a public space in India, one that facilitates new forms of art, creativity and thinking. I think the Biennale has become a space that challenges the world that's growing comfortable with illiberalism.

What’s new in this edition?
This edition is perhaps the most challenging. I think Sudarshan has presented the world with no centre point - only a multitude of possibilities through which even assimilation of meanings become multiple and layered. What was most exciting was the way Sudarshan brought in practices (dance, poetry, theatre, etc.) that are usually considered outside the scope of 'contemporary art' and blurred these pre-existing boundaries without compromising the integrity of the art forms.

Bringing art to the street

What are the objectives of the Biennale? Is the Biennale helping to democratise access to art? Are more people beginning to understand and appreciate art thanks to the Biennale?
Art is more than what art does. I think we are doing it (and the Biennale) a great disservice when we try to fit it into a pre-existing narrative. I don't think we needed a Biennale to democratise art. The Biennale is itself a result of this democratisation. That said, it does provide the general public with greater and better access to contemporary art. This access is, however, useless if the Biennale is unable to incite new questions, provoke curiosity and encourage critical thinking and outrage.

It is worth noting that India had a Triennale from 1968 to 2005. And we have numerous exhibitions and art shows spread across the country. Of course, the scale and ambition of the Biennale are larger than any single exhibition, but the key point is that the Biennale allows a huge amount of access to those looking to survey and encounter diverse global contemporary art practices. In the case of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, it also activates public spaces and even a new public.

Are younger people increasingly getting interested and buying art in India? What is the main driver of this? Does the Biennale result in the business or is it mainly for artists to express themselves?
I think there is a renewed interest in buying art in India. A lot of people have even started experimenting with what they are buying, but the art market still remains exclusive, even though there is interest from young new buyers. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a non-profit initiative and we do not sell artworks shown here. But it wouldn't be right for me to say that collectors and buyers are not interested in art shown at the Biennale. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When an artist is shown at the Biennale, it also provides a kind of validation and exposure that other exhibitions cannot provide. The Biennale is a free-space for experimentation for the artist.

Guided Walks at the Biennale

How do you see the art market for contemporary Indian art growing in the next 5 years?
That is something I’m not an expert on, however as an artist, I always feel that the art has to also evolve to reach out to a larger audience, so it has to be a collective effort from everyone.

What are some of your favourite places in Kochi?
Kochin Fort is a very popular hang out spot and is quite beautiful.
To stay, Old Harbour Hotel is a great pick.
Pepper House Café, Ginger Café and Kashi Art Café for food.
Heritage Arts for antiques.


A photowalk through Fort Kochi at Fort Kochin

Discern Take: India has a growing class of aspirational young 'enthusiasts' who seek experiences to make their life more interesting. With increasing affluence, younger people are now buying or renting homes (the average age has come down to 35 years) and filling them with objects that express their style, tastes and interests. Exhibits such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale appeal to these enthusiasts as they provide an opportunity to travel, discover new places and food, meet new people and, of course, discover amazing new things such as the Indian Contemporary Art on display at the Biennale. We feel that over the next 5 years there will be a notable change in the way young Indians live, with a strong emphasis on design that personalises their space, leading to an increased demand for art, sculptures, furniture, decor and accessories that resonate with those preferences. 

Here are a few notable artworks featured at Kochi-Muziris Biennale that struck a chord with us:

'The Sea of Pain' by a Chilean poet Raúl Zurita
'The Sea of Pain' by a Chilean poet Raúl Zurita
Venue: Aspinwall House
Dedicated to Syrian refugees, the installation reflects loss and the failures of the world.

The Pyramid
'The Pyramid of Exiled Poets' by Aleš Šteger
Venue: Aspinwall House
Expressing hopelessness, the vocal and immersive installation speaks to poetry in an age of fascism.


Venue: Aspinwall House
River of ideas serves as a space to reflect, question, and transform oneself. 




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