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Volume 68 Number 2, December 2016-March 2017

Volume 68 Number 2

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Edited by: Natasha Ginwala

Kochi-Muziris: Biennale as South Asian Form
Natasha Ginwala

Muziris and the Many Pasts of Kochi
Riyas Komu

Caste Slavery and Structural Violence in Kerala
Sanal Mohan

Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Biennale Phenomenon
Geeta Kapur in conversation with Natasha Ginwala

A Biennale in the Making
Bose Krishnamachari

Impressions on the Second Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Dieter Roelstraete and Abigail Winograd

Towards an Open Archaeology: On Vivan Sundaram’s Black Gold
Nada Raza

Mandalay Hall, in Memoriam: Reflections on a Collateral Project during KMB 2012
Zasha Colah

An Artistic Creed: Responses to Benitha Perciyal’s Fires of Faith
Rosalyn D’Mello

Imagined Futures: Works by Marie Velardi
Meera Menezes

The Eyes Have It: Naeem Mohaiemen’s Kazi in Nomansland and the Crisis of History
Murtaza Vali

Whorled Explorations
Jitish Kallat in conversation with Robert E. D’Souza and Sunil Manghani

Liquid History of Vasco da Gama
Sarnath Banerjee

Make-Belong in Retrospect: The Artists’ Cinema at KMB 2014
Ashish Rajadhyaksha

Solar: A Meltdown
Ho Rui An

Log Book Entry Before Storm
Raqs Media Collective

Stream of Stories
Sudarshan Shetty in conversation with Anindita Ghose

Contributors

The thematic advertisement portfolio on the inside cover and pages 1-9 features the activities of the Kochi Biennale Foundation and images of street and site-specific art in and around Fort Kochi during the first edition of the Biennale.

Thematic Ad-portfolio: In the beginning there was Kashi…
Patel, Shwetal A.
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016–March 2017, 3 unnumbered + 1–11

Written by a founding-member of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, this article delves into the older legacy of art activities and art spaces in Kochi and describes how the pre-KMB grassroots art scene developed in a city where opportunities to show new and experimental work had been rare.

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Editorial Note
Gupta, Latika
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016–March 2017, p. 12

This issue is the first to comprehensively examine the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, situating it within the history of biennales of South and Southeast Asia and the older legacies of art activities in Kochi. Unique artists’ pages make this a collectible. It also serves as a provocation for critical questions about the role of regional biennales to create multiple centres for art production and reception.

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Kochi–Muziris: Biennale as South Asian Form
Ginwala, Natasha
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 14-21

In this introductory essay, guest-editor Natasha Ginwala situates the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) as a public forum that brings together art and politics at a local realm while tuning in to key developments within the international sphere of contemporary cultural practice. She looks into the larger phenomenon of biennales and art summits, particularly in South Asia, and situates KMB within this space. Focusing on certain works and activities that were a part of the first two editions of the Biennale, she analyses the way in which the contributing artists and curators engage with the location and history of Fort Kochi and the larger questions they seek to raise in the minds of visitors and viewers.

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Muziris and the Many Pasts of Kochi
Komu, Riyas
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 22-29

This essay opens up the cosmopolitan layers in Kerala’s past, and looks at the continuing transcultural exchanges whereby the Biennale allows locals to engage with a contemporary globalizing present via the “minor” experiences of Kochi and Muziris. Riyas Komu expects the Biennale to unearth the multiple challenging histories of the land and compares it to the archaeological digs that keep happening around the region and the new findings that each one reveals. Komu also describes the various initiatives started by the Biennale to involve the immediate community of students, teachers, artists and curators in rethinking history and the realities they inhabit.

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Caste Slavery and Structural Violence in Kerala
Mohan, Sanal
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 30-36

In a magazine that otherwise presents a celebratory view of the multicultural histories and presents of Kerala, this essay provides a darker glimpse and critical reading of the region’s past. It looks at the systems of slavery and caste oppression that existed for much of the 19th and 20th centuries and that continue to haunt the local Dalit communities. Sanal Mohan also delves into the colonial archive to remind us of instances of slave rebellion and Protestant missionary endeavours that attempted to put an end to the problem but ultimately failed. Within the context of Kochi and the Biennale, he wishes to redirect our attention to the subaltern political voices of the place and its people.

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Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Biennale Phenomenon - Geeta Kapur in conversation with Natasha Ginwala
Ginwala, Natasha
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 37-44

This interview with Geeta Kapur serves a follow-up to Natasha Ginwala’s introductory essay. In it, Kapur, art-historian and one of the key supporters of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, comments on the nature of the biennale model and its connections with neoliberal globalization and urban corporatization. Kapur discusses older national and international art events that paved the way for the Biennale, the relevance of government and private funding for such initiatives and the new roles and approaches that have developed for the figure of the “curator”.

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A Biennale in the Making
Krishnamachari Bose
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 45-49

In this photo essay, Bose Krishmachari, one of the founders of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, looks back at the early days of the Biennale. Recounting his conversations with government officials, fellow artists, friends and critics, Bose charts for us the ideas, processes and challenges that went into the making of the first edition of this large-scale public art event. He celebrates the success and popularity that the Biennale has come to enjoy and how the word has become a part of the culture and lexicon of the average Malayali.

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Impressions on the Second Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Roelstraete, Dieter and Winograd, Abigail
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 50-55

On May 20, 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first set foot ashore southern India’s Malabar Coast. This cultural collision marked the beginning of the modern era, a monumental shift in international relations, and the start of the so-called Age of Discovery. The moment was also the point of departure for the second edition of, and this review of, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Dieter and Abigail are impressed by the refreshing frankness of the project to willingly address a set of circumscribed concerns. This comes as a welcome addition to a biennale landscape in which exhibitions seem to be resolutely noncommittal about anything resembling an organizing principle or idea. They also applaud artist-curator, Jitish Kallat, for expanding the exhibition’s reach across India and presenting a wide range of works by both elderly artists and gifted amateurs.

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Towards an Open Archaeology: On Vivan Sundaram’s Black Gold
Raza, Nada
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 56-60

Recent excavations in the area around Fort Kochi have unearthed a history of the place that goes back to the 1st century BCE when it was the site of an ancient port city called Muziris. Vivan Sundaram’s installation, Black Gold, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012 revisits this past and these discoveries in Pattanam. Sundaram uses discarded terracotta potsherds to recreate a landscape of ruins and films black pepper corns floating on water to reimagine the tussles over the spice trade that brought so many Europeans to Kochi. In this article, Nada Raza analyses Sundaram’s work, a film version of which was later showcased at the National Museum, New Delhi. She argues that this piece of art should make us think of the ways in which history can be reused and reworked to engage better with museological and archaeological practices.

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Mandalay Hall, in Memoriam: Reflections on a Collateral Project during KMB 2012
Colah, Zasha
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 61-65

Mandalay Hall, an 18th-century building in Fort Kochi, once served as home to a local Jewish family that traded with Burma. Drawing inspiration from this history of the place, curator Zasha Colah of Clark House Initiative, turned it into an exhibition space to showcase works by both national and international artists. This article reviews the exhibits, highlighting in particular political art from Burma and Romania and caricatures by the lesser-known Malayali artist R. Ramakrishna. Part of the intention here was to give voice to marginalized voices and people. With representations of mock courtrooms, images of torture and uprisings (some treated with wit and humour), the project served as reminder of the powerful ways in which art can reflect the turbulent nature of our contemporary times and encourage cross-border conversations in seeking justice and support.

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An Artistic Creed: Responses to Benitha Perciyal’s Fires of Faith
D’Mello, Rosalyn
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 66-69

Benitha Perciyal’s installation, Fires of Faith, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 was an elaborate, evocative tableau of fractured beings, sourced from her imaginative rendering of the subject of faith. Spawned by her interest in the evangelistic zeal of St. Thomas, who is credited with bringing Christianity to India soon after Christ's death, and her own religious upbringing, her incense sculptures attest to the mysterious and miraculous nature of the death and resurrection of the “son of man”. The writer responds to the spiritual intonations in Perciyal's work as well as the visual imagery that influenced the figuration. 

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Imagined Futures: Works
Menezes, Meera
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 70-73

Marie Velardi’s timeline of the 21st century, stretching from 2001 to 2099, was plotted with descriptions of the future ranging from plausible to ludicrous to outright chilling. The trigger for the work was a question she toyed with at the beginning of the 21st century: how did people in the past imagine the period we find ourselves in now? With research forming an integral part of her artistic practice, Velardi delved into the fears and desires of various generations, finding inspiration in fictionalized narratives, films, philosophical texts, exhibitions, scientific papers and in exchanges with her peers. Some of these imagined a world a few decades later, others entire centuries. This essay explores the artist’s unique vision through her installations at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014.

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The Eyes Have It: Naeem Mohaiemen's Kazi in Nomansland and the Crisis of History
Vali, Murtaza
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 74-77

In this article, Murtaza Vali reviews the work of Bangladeshi artist-academic Naeem Mohaiemen presented at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014. Mohaiemen is particularly interested in “banal nationalism”—trivial everyday forms and representations of nationalism in flags, maps, currency and language. In his work, Kazi in Nomansland, he uses stamps and photographs to focus on the figure of the Bengali Muslim poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and the manner in which this iconic figure gets co-opted into the rival nationalist claims, tensions and propagandas of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Through this project, Mohaiemen presents his larger critique of nationalism and partition and its imposition or negation of narratives within the lives of a people.

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Whorled Explorations - Jitish Kallat in conversation with Robert E. D'Souza and Sunil Manghani
D’Souza, Robert E. and Manghani, Sunil
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 78-81

The first Kochi Biennale in 2012 was notable for site-specific works and its engagement with the artist community. Building on this work, the second iteration in 2014 with the expansive title “Whorled Explorations”, under the curatorship of Jitish Kallat, was more conceptual, interlacing various themes, ideas and provocations that recurred throughout the exhibition sites. In this interview, an excerpt from the book, India’s Biennale Effect, Kallat reflects upon his work as Biennale curator, with discussion ranging over broader issues of the political aesthetic of contemporary art and its display.

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Liquid History of Vasco da Gama
Banerjee, Sarnath
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 82-91

These artists pages (36 works in charcoal and pastel) created by graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee explore the shadowy world of 15th-century Indian Ocean maritime trade through the accounts of the fictional character, Digital Dutta. Based on the work of historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam, the comics revolve around Vasco da Gama’s voyages to India. They feature a large cast of colourful characters including pirates, convicts, smugglers, degradadoes, Omani navigators, Gujarati seamen, Moors from Calicut, a mysterious Jew from Poznan, Dom Manuel the king of Portugal and Prester John, a mythical king from medieval European chronicles. The resultant history is neither cast in stone nor vulnerable to the charge of manufacturing the past.

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Make-Belong in Retrospect: The Artists’ Cinema at KMB 2014
Rajadhyaksha, Ashish
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 92-99

In 2014, Ashish Rajadhyaksha was invited by the Kochi-Muziris Biennale to contribute a curated package of films for a new section titled Artists’ Cinema. He eventually put together a disparate package of films, titled Make-Belong, which included independent documentaries from China and Hong Kong, and the iconic Malayalam film Amma Ariyan by John Abraham. In this essay, the author talks about how he arrived at his curation plan: a plan that had to include Kerala, the cinema, Kochi, India, and Asia. Its major protagonist was a new category that, the author says, has arisen to prominence: a “camera-enhanced bodily self”, coalescing artist-spectator-performer, brought together mainly by the camera and directly energized by its existence, and now politicized by a host of new developments in the mediatized public domain. 

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Solar: A Meltdown
Rui An, Ho
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 100-103

Solar: A Meltdown considers the contemporary contexts of globalization and terrestrial meltdown through three figures: the sweaty white man of the colonial expedition, the air-conditioning white woman of the postcolonial moment and the punkahwallah or manual fan operator. The text implicates the three figures in a narrative describing the fantastical installation of today’s expanded global interior from which the Sun is banished and sweat obliterated. Advancing its critique against what amounts to a forgetting of labour, it finally seeks to reclaim sweat as a way of getting out of ourselves and in touch with the Solar.

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Log Book Entry Before Storm
RAQS Media Collective
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016-March 2017, pp. 104-113

The piece “Log Book Entry Before Storm” is a rendering of RAQ’s eponymous work in the Kochi Biennale, 2014. Like the work, it attempts to incubate circulation. In Kochi, the work was situated in a house that was once lived in—even though that living had demanded its partition. The work sought to lull a retrospective halt that mixed interior with the exterior, the past with the present, and equally possibly the future. Sensorial elements suggested an immersion between land and sea. Everything was allowed to circulate—time, light, air, colour, ideas, sensations, thought. Anything was possible—a cabinet acted as a passageway, glass tiles interrupted the bounds of the ceiling and looped into a space warp—and all the while the house spoke to the viewer in Morse code.

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Stream of Stories: Sudarshan Shetty in conversation with Anindita Ghose
Ghose, Anindita
Vol. 68 No. 2, December 2016–March 2017, pp. 114–117

The third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (on from December 12, 2016) is poised to play against expectation. At the first announcement of artists on December 15, 2015, at the Town Hall in Kochi, the curator, Sudarshan Shetty, had the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita recite his poetry. With previous editions also curatorially helmed by artists, this third edition is set to be even more ambitious and amorphous than it has been so far. Shetty’s roster of artists brings together practices as diverse as the graphic art of Orijit Sen (India) and Hannah Tuuliki (Scotland), who studies folklore and birdsong. What does it mean for an artist who has a proclivity to ideas of memory, imagined space, mortality, and the rituals of death, to steer India’s most prestigious platform for contemporary art? This interview probes into such matters, providing glimpses into Shetty’s vision and the art he has selected for this year’s Biennale.

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