Kochi: The curtains will go up on the three month long extravaganza of international contemporary visual Art -- Kochi-Muzeris Biennale -- here on Wednesday when Chief Minister Ooomen Chandy will formally inaugurate the festival, organised in the country for the first time. Over 80 artists from India and abroad, including Ariel Hassan (Argentina), Amanullah Mojadidi (Afghanistan), Rigo23 (Portugal), Joseph Semah (Israeli based in Amsterdam), Ernesto Neto (Brazil) Jonas Staal (Netherlands), Hussain Walmenesh (Australia), Wangechi Mutu (Africa) and Zhang Enli (China) will showcase their creative brilliance through mediums like installation art, painting, sculpture and films.
Among famous signatures of cutting-edge art is Kerala born painter Paris Viswanathan, returning home to recreate a nearly four-decade-old masterpiece showing the essence of human life through grains of sand. Also from Kerala are K P Reji, Sosa Joseph and P S Jalaja,besides Mumbai-based artist Jyothi Basu. A quarter of the artistic presence will be from Kerala and an equal number from the rest of the country.
"The Biennale does figure a good number of Malayali artists. No less than 22 of them," says Bose Krishnamachari,president of Kochi Biennale Foundation and curator of the pioneering event. "Quite a few Biennales across the world have the same set of artists. The Kochi edition is introducing some new faces," adds co-curator Riyas Komu, secretary of the Foundation.
Internationally acclaimed Indian artists Subodh Gupta and Vivan Sundaram have worked on themes specific to Kerala. Gupta, who has rubbed shoulders with international masters, will show life's parables through a country boat, the defining feature of traditional Kerala life. Delhi-based Sundaram revives the memories of the lost Muziris port town in ancient Kerala. Other Indian artists on show are Anita Dube, Amar Kanwar, Subodh Gupta and Sudarshan Shetty.
Through celebration of contemporary art from around the world, the Biennale seeks to invoke the historic cosmopolitan legacy of Kochi and its mythical predecessor - Muziris, a once prosperous sea port in 1 BC and believed to have been washed away into the sea in the AD 1331 floods. It is believed to have close links with Rome, Greece, China and Arabia. The exhibitions will be held across Kochi, Muziris and surrounding islands.
Though the controversy following a vigilance probe into the Rs 5 crore spending of funds offered by the previous LDF-led Left Front government has removed some of the sheen, Krishnamachari feels "justice will be on our side". "We have lost our reputation.The case has damaged our relationship with people and fund raising has become difficult. Most leading brands which promised support are now skeptical," he said.
The inaugural will see a sizzling performance by Oscar nominated Sri Lankan British rapper and visual artist Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, popularly known as M.I.A, where she will collaborate with ethnic chenda drummers of central Kerala, said Shwetal Patel, CEO, for the Biennale. The 37-year-old artist, who shares her time between London and New York, had won an Academy nomination in song writing category for 'Slumdog Millionaire'.
In the art segment, the Biennale has a novel ingredient - graffiti. Street art has for the first time in an Indian art event found a slot and already manifested itself with shimmering frescos across walls and fences of a few buildings. The three-month spectacle - an explosive mix of visual grandeur and aesthetic sensibility, fantasies and political messages - will also see film screenings and performance arts. "This is something which is unprecedented in the 117 years of the world s Biennale history," says cartoonist Bonny Thomas, research coordinator for the Kochi Biennale.
The artists - almost half of them from abroad (24 nations) - will exhibit their skills at nine venues, including a newly-refurbished Durbar Hall in Kochi, once a Royal court and a renovated British-era warehouse,Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi. The focal ones are in historically vital belts of Fort Kochi, besides Muziris, the lost sea-port township that was a gateway of commerce in ancient times. Organisers have also taken up about one lakh square feet to install video and mixed media art works at Mattancherry Bazar road, housing several warehouses used as godowns for spices, antiques, coir and regional produce.
Worldwide, Biennale has a history dating to 1895 when the Italian city of Venice held such an event. Since then, it has spawned over 150 editions across the globe. This is the first time India is hosting the new-art event.