Kochi: For all its global take on art, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2014 has sprung an amusing coincidence: its youngest and oldest artists are both from the host state of Kerala.
While Unnikrishnan C is just 23 years old, K M Vasudevan Namboodiri—whom Malayalis fondly call 'Artist Namboodiri—will turn 90 in nine months from now.
Unnikrishnan, who is an alumnus of Government College of Fine Arts, Thrissur, has his KMB’14 work being exhibited at Fort Kochi’s CSI Bungalow, which is not far from the main Aspinwall House venue where octogenarian Namboodiri’s Vara/Thira sketches are on display.
Interestingly, the second-oldest artist at KMB’14, too, is a Malayali. K G Subramanyan, 80, was born in Koothuparamba of North Malabar, though he lives in Gujarat’s Vadodara after having spent much of his life at his alma mater Santiniketan in West Bengal.
Among the young lot at KMB’14, Singaporean Ho Rui An is 24 and Mumbaikar Sahej Rahal is 26.
For KMB’14 artistic director Jitish Kallat, his curatorial idea for the biennale which began on December 12 last year took off when “two chronologically overlapping but perhaps directly unrelated historical episodes in Kerala during the 14th-17th centuries became parallel points of departure”. The 108-day exhibition featuring 100 main artworks by 94 artists from 30 countries.
Today, in one corridor of the sea-facing Aspinwall complex, Namboodiri’s works offer fleeting glimpses of Kochi through a series of drawings using dry sketch pen on paper. They unfold like a mindscape that, Kallat notes, “unfold like a mindscape of the city where the past and present collide.”
For Namboodiri, who was at the biennale venue last week for a shoot session by filmmaker Shaji N Karun who is making a documentary on the artist, his work at KMB’14 is a deviation from his usual style. “I drew without doubt,” he said, having visited Fort Kochi from his house near Edappal—not far from his native Ponnani, also in Malappuram district.
Unnikrishnan, who hails from Palakkad district, has included many of his early paintings in his KMB’14 exhibition, which is a freestanding wall composed of more than 300 bricks.
His art draws from the surroundings of his central-Kerala village of Pezhumpara near Nenmara, where he was born into a family traditionally engaged in basket weaving. “There was a lot of superstition while I was growing up. One of my aunts was an oracle,” he recalls. “As a child, I was often told terrifying stories about spirits. All of these unconsciously appear in my work.”
KMB’14, which is the second edition of India’s only biennale, is being held in eight venues of the city. It concludes on March 29.