Art exhibitions and festivals act as a catalyst for conserving art and the culture of a place. It can spark life and color to a city with no distinctive character through contextualized art that proves its relevance to that city.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

Art has the power to transform society through art by depicting major social issues and normalizing various taboo topics. Numerous activists resort to communicating ideas through art as they realized its strength to convey powerful messages to the world.

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“Ode to Kochi Biennale” by Pangrok Sulap
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Maharashtrian artist Parag Sonarghare painting “Eyes” on walls near Bazaar Road
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Graffiti for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014

THE BIRTH OF THE KOCHI-MUZIRIS BIENNALE

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale evokes a new understanding of contemporary art in the old port city of Kochi in Kerala. The city has countless cultural influences dating back to Colonial times, with myriads of buildings and warehouses of major historic significance left to degenerate. With the generous support of the government and a few private patrons, it was only in 2012 that the foreign concept of Biennale initiated a link that knitted together these historic structures with contemporary art. Although an ambitious project and a challenging feat for artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari, they listed out several possible venues in Kochi, Muziris (present-day Kodungallur), and surrounding islands that associate buildings from different corners under an umbrella of an art community in Kerala.

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Graffiti art at Pepper House, Fort Kochi
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Portuguese-American artist Rigo23’s Bamboo and jute installation at Calvathy Jetty ©enclavereview.org/kochi-muziris-biennale/
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“It’s my Biennale” posters for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MAIN VENUES 

ASPINWALL HOUSE

The 19th-century leading company established by John H Aspinwall, Aspinwall & Company Ltd which was known for the trade of coconut oil, pepper, spices, etc. transitioned to become the biggest venue of The Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

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Aspinwall House
CABRAL YARD

In the early 20th century, Aspinwall & Company Ltd. acquired the Cabral Yard for erecting the hydraulic press for coir production. This yard becomes the site for the Biennale Pavilion, a multifunctional structure built on bamboo as envisioned by curator Anita Dube.

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Biennale Pavilion, Cabral Yard
DAVID HALL

In the name of a Jewish businessman David Koder, this art gallery and cafe was once a 17th century Dutch Bungalow built by the Dutch East India Company that accommodated military officials. “Hortus Malabaricus”, the biological treatise by Hendrik van Rheede, was formulated from this place.

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David Hall © dreamofacity.com/2017/12/11/a-stroll-through-fort-cochin/
MAP PROJECT SPACE

The old warehouse is the property of the Museum of Art and Photography in Bangalore where the upper space exhibits permanent works of artist Georges Rousse and Nassia Inglessis that focuses on optical illusions from the combination of art and photography and the lower floor exhibits works of the Biennale.

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Map Project Space
PEPPER HOUSE

The two double-storeyed warehouses connected by a courtyard that were storage areas for spices used by the Dutch are currently functioning as a courtyard cafe, visual arts library, galleries, studios for artist residencies, and event spaces.

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Pepper House

THE FOUR PREVIOUS EDITIONS

THE GOOGLE ART PROJECT – 2012

The Google Art Project is an initiative by Google, which in collaboration with other esteemed art institutes including the White House in Washington, Musée d’Orsay, Musée du Louvre in Paris, etc. digitized India’s first Biennale. Millions of art enthusiasts visited the biennale virtually, thus bringing many artists for the next editions.

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Ibrahim Quraishi’s “Islamic Violins”
WHORLED EXPLORATIONS – 2014 

“Whorled Exploration ” curated by Jitish Kallat is set in the 14th and 17th centuries when discoveries and inventions flourished in Kerala. The exhibition revolves around the exaggerated acts of going towards or away in space to understand and reflect upon it.

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Anish Kapoor’s “Perpetual Black Whirlpool”
FORMING IN THE PUPIL OF AN EYE – 2016 

“Forming the pupil of the eye” curated by Sudarshan Shetty delves into the idea of the seen and the unseen, explained metaphorically through the various rivers and its tributaries whose origin and end is known. The convergence and divergence of rivers questions one’s understanding of what one perceives as knowledge and how to approach it. The Biennale imagines a hidden river whose origin or end is neither known, which brings rise to a story or poetry.

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Dana Awartani’s “Love is my Law, Love is my Faith”
POSSIBILITIES FOR A NON-ALIENATED LIFE – 2018

“Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life” is curated by Anita Dube’s dreams of a liberal society free of hyper virtual connectivity and encourages community living through politically-charged works. It delves into the possibilities for a non-alienated life spilling into the politics of friendship, where people sharing differences can dream freely and celebrate friendship together. The unity of people during the devastating floods of Kerala in 2018 is what inspired this concept.

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Durgabai and Subhash Vyam’s mythical graphic narrative “Gondi Bhitti Chitrakala” ©artsatva.com/durgabai-and-subhash-vyam-kochi-biennale/

UPCOMING BIENNALE – 2020

“In our veins flow ink and fire” is the theme of the upcoming biennale curated by artists Shubigi Rao proposed to happen on 12th December 2020 to 10th April 2021. The concept breaks the notion that even the most solitary of journeys like reading and writing constitute collective knowledge and ideas by amplifying the voices of society. The artists individually have the potential to contribute as a collective by making the best out of the challenging times.

Considering the unpredictability of the current situation and as society evolves into the new normal, the biennale will happen as proposed, keeping in mind the safety measures and restrictions on social distancing.

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Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

AN ART LOVER’S DAY AT THE BIENNALE

The art exhibition at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is not limited to just viewing a painting on the wall but allows one to walk through the art and experience virtual reality.

It is a great platform to learn, understand and interact with contemporary art of all forms and offers a rich program of talks, seminars, screenings, music performances, workshops, and educational activities for students and visitors of all ages.

“The Kochi Biennale is not happening inside a white cube. It is happening in living spaces.”– Khaled Sabsabi 

The Student’s Biennale is an initiative by the Kochi Biennale Foundation to strengthen the art education system in India by promoting students pursuing fine arts courses to exhibit works and understand the world of curation.

The art workshops by eminent artists and the community kitchen buzzed with visitors after a long day at the biennale bring a communal touch to an art exhibition, making this a unique experience.

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Water Temple by Song Dong
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The Sea of Pain by Raul Zurita ©www.kohlart.com/kohltravels
Author

Gopika Pramod is an aspiring architect and writer whose thoughts are expressed as beautiful sketches in the readers' minds. She loves to bring a different perspective that is frequently seen but failed to observe and keeps her mind open to new ideas.

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