Kochi: A striking collateral show at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), 'Janela: Migrating Forms and Migrating Gods' is a window into the Museum of Goa (MoG) that artist Subodh Kerkar is setting up in this ancient city further south of his tiny state along the Konkan Coast. Featuring the works of 26 Indian and international artists, including Subodh’s 18-year-old son Siddharth Kerkar, the exhibition explores the shared histories of Kerala and Goa.
‘Janela’, which is spread around a warehouse and the grounds of Mattancherry’s Mill Hall Compound by the Arabian Sea, starts with Subodh’s ‘Chillies’, made of cycle tyres—as is his ‘Pearlspot’ fish found as you walk down. The ‘Chillies’ look like they are hung up to dry in the sun, suggesting the goods that the Portuguese brought to south India from their other colonies.
Curator Valentina Gioia Levy, who is from the Museum of Oriental Art in Rome, brings an international flavour to the exhibition, with cultural exchange as the motif.
Mumbai-based Sweety Joshi’s untitled exhibit deals with the development of language, while Friso Witteveen’s ‘Lingam Palace’ shows how men from his native Holland Dutch came only as traders and—unlike the Portuguese—did not care to convert.
Among other works, Narendra Yadav’s ‘My Phantom Mother’ depicts an icon of Mother Mary placed on a lotus, showing how easily religious borrowed imagery from each other.
‘Janela’, as Subodh notes, “digs into the recesses of historical archives, memory and celebrates the connectedness” of cultures.
“The waves that wash the shores of the west coast of India have not only carved and shaped rocks, but also ideas, dreams and narratives. The ocean has acted as a medium of intercontinental cultural diffusion,” he says. “The word for a window in both Konkani and in Malayalam is adopted from the Portuguese language. It is ‘Janela’.”
‘Janela’, thus, is an attempt to peep into the shared histories of Goa and Kerala and also explore what historians A. G. Hopkins and Christopher Bayly described as proto-globalization, he adds. “It is also an endeavour to narrate history through the contemporary idiom.”
Subodh believes that the KMB is the best thing to happen to Indian art, because like the saint poets of ancient India who made the Vedas accessible to the common man, biennale here has brought contemporary art to people.
“The notion was that contemporary art is only for the elite,” says Subodh, who gave up his medical practice about 20 years ago to take up art fulltime. “But thanks to this biennale, I see people who would otherwise be scared to enter into a gallery, come here freely. They have taken the language of art to the common man. That is their greatest contribution.”
Subodh hopes to do the same through the MoG, which is scheduled to have its first exhibition in October, and through a programme called Kalakirtan, which will discuss contemporary art in village squares, temples and churches, a couple of times a month.
Kochi Biennale Foundation, which is hosting the 108-day KMB’14 that mainly features 100 artworks by 94 artists from across the world, notes that ‘Janela’ focuses on the question of visual forms that have been considered as shapes, archetypes or symbols. “It also looks into their aptitude to being assimilated or modified during the process of cultural cross-breeding,” says KBF secretary Riyas Komu, who is the KMB’14 director of programmes.
Special attention is paid on the visual forms connected with the transcendent. In the past, the topic of the sacred image has always had a great importance in European and Indian art. The exhibition questions its redefinition, and the role that it might have, today, in the context of artistic researches focusing on identity, historical, socio-political and/or anthropological issues.