Kottayam: The political literacy and progressive movements that were once synonymous with trade unions in the state has long given way to the exorbitant rates they charge to load/unload or the nokku kooli (wages for just watching things being loaded or unloaded) they demand. While the commoners often had to succumb to the unions' claims for high rates and the illegal nokku kooli, an artist who was in Kochi as part of the recently concluded Kochi-Muziris Biennale decided not to give in to the demands of union representatives.
He marked his protest against the unions by destroying his own works exhibited at a collateral show.
Waswo X. Waswo, a US-born artist who is settled in Rajasthan, had to take the extreme step on Tuesday when he had to depend on some trade union members for loading his works which were exhibited as part of a Biennale-collateral show. The artist who found the amount quoted by the unions 'too much' decided to destroy some parts of his works to mark his protest. The issue came to light as he posted a video of the incident on YouTube, which went viral.
"This is a testament to the unions in Kerala, and what they do to business; and how they destroy business in the state," says an angry Waswo in the video.
Waswo told that the unions in Kochi were targeting artists who came to participate in the Biennale. They asked for Rs10,000 to move six boxes just 10 feet into the truck. I had about 30 boxes in total. It was too much money so I had to protest,the artist said. However, in the end, the unions agreed to load the boxes for about half the amount they quoted as per tempo load,he said, 'adding that he did not want to invite more troubles.'
“I want to know why the artists were being targetted by the unions. We did not receive crores of rupees as many people think. I did not receive any money from the Kochi Biennale Foundation. I paid for every aspect of my show from my own pocket,” Waswo said.
He said he grew up in a trade union family and he had no issue with the idea of unions, but it was not fair to charge extra amounts from anyone.
Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) president Bose Krishnamachari said that he “felt sad to see such incidents”.
“Trade unions should not charge extra amounts from artists,” he said.
KBF secretary Riyas Komu told Onmanorama that he looked at the incident “as a protest of an artist.”
Komu said: “Such reports going viral may have a negative effect on Kochi globally," acknowledging that this is a major issue which "many artists had to face in the city.”
“The Biennale foundation had initiated talks with the Labour Commissioner even before the event and had been able to arrive at a particular amount with headload workers. Despite this, we have had similar issues during collateral events,” he said.
Meanwhile, trade unions affiliated to various political parties are engaged in deinstallation works at various venues of the Kochi Muziris Biennale.