The Great Kerala Art Imbroglio
- Sivaram Srikandath
Story Dated: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 15:20 hrs IST
Logo for Kochi Muziris Biennale
We Malayalis love a good controversy, don't we? And if we can't find one we just create one. As simple as that.
Barely three weeks into the New Year, we are in the thick of what I would call the Great Kerala Art Imbroglio. Fangs are bared, claws are unsheathed, and the battle lines have been drawn. At stake is the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2012, the labour of love of two Mumbai based Malayali artistes - Bose Krishnamachari and Riyaz Komu - who convinced Mr. M.A. Baby, the Minister for Culture in the previous LDF Government that the event, with an initial investment by the Government would do wonders for the state's image and also greatly benefit the local community of artistes. And thus, the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) was set up with a seed capital of Rs. 5 crore, provided by the Government. The major portion of the total budget, estimated at around Rs. 75 crores, was to be met by funding from private sponsors.
So far so good. Matters were proceeding smoothly.
Now, a group of disgruntled artistes have come out openly against the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) accusing them, among other things, of (a) of mismanagement of the renovation of the Durbar Hall gallery; (b) lack of transparency in the handling of the accounts; (c) not involving other artists in the conceptualization of the event; and (d) even questioning the abilities of the organizers to conduct such an event.
Personally I find the charges ludicrous; even naive.
The Durbar Hall Gallery renovation was undertaken to the highest standards of conservation, lighting and climate control so that Kerala would finally have a word-class exhibition space that meets international museum standards and which will continue to serve as a community gallery for local and international shows year round. The renovation of the heritage building was entrusted to a team of experts headed by Vikas Dilawari, a leading conservation architect with more than 20 years experience in conservation heritage and winner of several accolades for distinguished service, including an UNESCO award. And the charge that accounts have not been submitted appears baseless as independently audited accounts have already been submitted to the Government
Meanwhile, according to Michelangelo Bendandi, the Director of Communications for the Biennale, Bose and Riyaz were steadily working behind the scenes to put in place the necessary organizational structure.
Networking functions, international art event research trips, work shops and round tables, acquiring reference materials, working on logistics, conducting artist studio visits, mapping sites in and around Kochi were all part of the frenetic build-up that is so necessary for the smooth unfolding of an event of such magnitude. The efforts of Bose and Riyaz have borne fruit and the Kochi Muziris Biennale can now claim the support of several world renowned curators including among others, Dan Cameron, Neville Wakefield, Thierry Raspall, Rajeev Sethi, Ranjit Hoskote, and Paul Schimmel.
As regards the charge of not involving other local artistes in the conceptualization of the event, Bendandi concludes, "It is only now that we are able to announce the curatorial concept and seek the collaboration of myriad institutions and individuals, both international and local, to help us realise it.
The benefits of the Biennale will be immense. The announcement of the art exposition has already been heralded by the international press and it continues to be endorsed in cultural and tourism forums. Forbes magazine has included it in the list of “13 Cultural Events to Be Seen At In 2012”, British Airways Highlife has described it as “Six of the best Biennales” and The New York Times calls it one of “The 45 places to Go in 2012”.
Jose Dominic of CGH Earth, vice-Chairman of CII Kerala Chapter and a trustee member of the KBF is quite vocal about the positive impact that the Biennale will have. "The favourable image that a Bienalle can help to create will benefit the State in so many other ways . The Emerging Kerala initiative of the Government to get investment into the State will be a major beneficiary."
The last word in this controversy belongs to Gita Kapur, well known art critic, art historian and curator. As she says, "there are always detractors to be found in every such project and these include not only narrow-minded bureaucrats, but sulking artists who would much rather see an initiative turn mediocre ........... and even die than bring credit to some other more energetic art practitioners among their midst. Everywhere in India we await with the greatest eagerness the realization of the Kochi Muziris Biennale as conceived by its two exceptional artist initiators who have intuited and then educated themselves into this project by evaluating what happens in the rest of the world and especially as it happens with such vigour now in Asia."
So, instead of cribbing, as is the wont of us Malayalis, let us wait with vigour for what Dominic calls, the "Olympics of Art" to unfold in December 2012.
Bose and Riyaz have a vision for their pet project : "The intention of a Biennale is to give the visitor a memorable personal experience in a conceptual space; rather than viewing art as a precious object........ creating spaces that will become part of Kochi, for the benefit of Kochi's and India's art community."
I for one, support their efforts.