Gosh, what a whirlwind Fort Kochi was! The Biennale was not just a site to discover new art and artists, it was a site for self-discovery, one which questioned biases and prejudices, challenged misconceptions and entertained. That art can elicit such a range of emotions, I knew, what was new, was the cohesive narrative the curator successfully wove through this dynamic and almost paranoia-inducing question, ‘how do you lead a non-alienated life?’.
The Biennale was political, visual, inclusive and everyone’s voices got represented. The old, the new, the poor, the queer, the foreigner, the slave, children, the underdogs, everyone..and I wonder if we could replicate this curation of plurality in our corporation and parliaments and school leadership and families we’d perhaps achieve being empathetic and compassionate a lot faster.
Here are my favorite art/ists that/who made an indelible impact!
French photographer George Rousse turns up at soon-to-be-demolished sites and paints space altering visions. It’s an illusion, it’s a reality, it’s playful and it’s profound all at once. Space is his raw material. The photograph, the architecture, and the shape and colour bring alive his mastery. The immobility and static nature of architecture are transformed into a dizzying perception game. Is it real? is it imaginary?, I stood back and grappled with these questions at the scene of the installation, a perfect site for wide-eyed wonder. Follow the hashtag #georgerousse on Instagram.
The Edible Archives hero-ed my favorite carbohydrate, the rice! From Bengal to Kerala, Orissa to Tamil Nadu Chef Anumitra brought sacks of rice that have been disappearing since the green revolution. Frankly, a culinary genius, Chef Anumitra, with Japanese precision, served small earthen bowls of indigenous rice, curry, and sides. I loved the beautiful thought behind the name, where meals become memories, and in a way, the transient gets archived into our log of memories. Here’s a rice memory, in my pre-teen fishy lunch years, every time I choked on a fishbone, my maid would make me swallow a small ball of rice, the starchy ball always saved the throat!
There was a haunting emotion as I drank a cup of coffee by the shore, inside the Aspinwall Yard. A sun-dappled clothesline with muddy shirts inscribed with ink demanded my attention. A closer look revealed a horrifying and easily forgotten history. Sue Williamson an artist from Cape Town was responsible for educating and breaking my heart with her interactive installation. One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale documents cotton working shirts and cloth, with handwritten details of the sale and purchase of human beings, as slaves. Dipped in muddy waters and hung along the shore, Sue found the archives of the slave trade in Cape Town, from which she extracted the data of the sale. The shirts then traveled to Kochi another city colonized by the East India Company and they will stay on display for one hundred and nineteen days. If my head just hurt from reading the age and the amount of money that a human being was bought and sold for, I cannot even imagine the alienated lives of the countless slaves.
Bombay based Shilpa Gupta’s participatory installation was absolutely sensorially challenging. This art project made me deeply aware of empathy and understanding. Thrown into a theatre of politics I was choked and shocked to feel so deeply about the role of the government, of literature and of power. For, In Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit – 100 Jailed Poets was an installation of 100 speaking microphones that sat above stakes that each had a pierced page of poetry. From the room emanated a synchronized chorus of song and poetry. The voices and the written word belong to jailed human beings who were persecuted for their beliefs. While the installation left me emotional, it left me hurt and angry too, for the simple fact that even in 2019 the orchestrated oppression hasn’t ended. That contrarian voices are abused and shut down. Some people have power which they use as a weapon, and others have art, words, poetry, and music to respond to the violence around.
Zanele Muholi from Umlazi, South Africa is a photographer and an activist. Her striking monochromatic portraits of the South African LGBTQiA+ diaspora is shocking and powerful. I absolutely love anyone who uses their talent to offer visibility and dignity to others, especially human beings who have been historically excluded and threatened. From Faces and Phases weren’t lifeless, black and white photographs or a simple catalog, it was an urgent archive of the confident gaze of the queer who challenges stereotypes of how their sexualities need to fit the mainstream. She’s exhibited her multivalent images across the world, allowing the faces and the stories the faces tell to be confronted by controversy and sensitivity.
I still have to write about and gush over Srila’s recycled and reused materials at Eye Spy, Song Dong’s playful Water Temple, The seminal works at the Srinagar Biennale, Marzia Farhana‘s quirky yet raw art installation capturing the devasting 2018 flood in Kerala, Raju Satar’s curatorial genius as he collectively thinks that Thought is Also a Matter, and Heri Dono’s creepy yet amusing Smiling Angels from the Sky.
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