Spectacular opening for Kochi's first art biennale
A three-month festival of art, heritage and culture on a scale unseen in India before, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, began here Wednesday, 12/12/12, with a spectacular cultural event that included a mesmerising 'panchavadyam' (five-instrument) performance by 44 musicians.
Leading the inaugural festivities was Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy at the imposing parade grounds in the heart of Fort Kochi, once used by the Portuguese to store arms and then by the Dutch and the British to conduct military drills.
The venue reverberated later again with the dazzling sounds of the orchestra of 44 musicians, led by maestro Panamanna Sasi, using traditional chendas (drums), ilathalam (cymbals), kuzhals (pipes), kombus (horns) and nadaswarams (Indian clarinet).
The grand finale and, indeed a treat to the ears, was a fusion between these 44 musicians and the resonant voice of New York- and Britain-based Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, Sri Lankan-born artist and musician, better known as M.I.A., whose track for "Slumdog Millionnaire" was nominated for the Oscars.
"This event the first in India is a great honour for Kerala and our country," Chandy said, adding it is gratifying that some 80 artists from 24 countries were participating.
"This biennale, I am sure, will alter our false notion that high art is for the elite and expect people to visit in large numbers. I also expect around 800,000 visitors during the three-month event," he added.
Globally, the biennale as a form of celebration of art has a history that dates back to 1895, when Venice in Italy held one such event.
Since then, as the organisers of the Kochi festival state, it has seen some 150 editions across the globe.
For India, however, the Kochi event is the first.
Earlier in the day, 14 venues, all of which have a deep-rooted history, saw works of art exhibited by some 80 artists from India and abroad in formats and mediums such as installations, paintings, sculpture, music and films.
The artists -- 22 of whom trace their roots to Kerala, an equal number from other parts of India and the rest from across the globe, are showing their talent at venues in different locations, spread over 300,000 square feet of this ancient port city, including the recently renovated British-era warehouse, the Aspinwall House.
The big names from overseas include Ariel Hassan from Argentina, Amanullah Mojadidi from Afghanistan, Rigo 23 from Portugal, Joseph Semah, an Israeli based in Amsterdam, Ernesto Neto from Brazil, and Jonas Staal from the Netherlands.
Representing India is the cutting edge art of Kerala-born painter Velu Paris Viswanathan, who is now in his home state and has recreated his four-decade-old masterpiece showing the essence of human life through grains of sand.
Joining him are artists including Subodh Gupta, Sheela Gowda and Vivan Sundaram.
"It was an interesting challenge for both M.I.A. and me," said Sasi. "There is a big difference in our cultures, art and language. But in the end we have succeeded," the maestro from Palakkad, which has produced several artistes like him, said.
The art extravaganza here has been brought together by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, with Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu as co-curators.
Kochi has also already been declared a Biennale City and the event will be held every two years in different forms and formats.
"Through the celebration of contemporary art from around the world, Kochi Muziris Biennale seeks to invoke the historic cosmopolitan legacy of the modern metropolis of Kochi, and its ancient predecessor, the port of Muziris," Krishnamachari said.
"This is a non-commercial project. The exhibits are open to all. The programme of events will run for three months, closing on 13/03/13. The Biennale will then take place every two years in Kochi and Muziris," Krishnamachari said.
(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at email@example.com)