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 Kerala Tourism
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Partner content
‘Partner Content’ is used to describe brand content that is paid for and controlled by the advertiser rather than the Euronews editorial team. This content is produced by commercial departments and does not involve Euronews editorial staff or news journalists. The funding partner has control of the topics, content and final approval in collaboration with Euronews’ commercial production department.
Kerala Tourism

Kochi-Muziris Biennale - A Dance of Art, Contemporary Kochi and its Mythical Past

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©   -  Copyright  Kerala Tourism

Colonial-era houses dating back to the 16th-century line the streets, sentinels of history. The early morning sun glances over terracotta-tiled rooftops. Silhouetted against the deep blue sky, Chinese nets — large, cantilevered fishing nets, rise above the waters of the Malabar coast like the sails of long sunken boats, as they have done for centuries. At the end of a narrow by-lane, the white facade of a 16th-century Jewish synagogue gleams at passersby — reminders of the diverse traditions that have made up the culture of this quaint neighbourhood.

This is Fort Kochi, a charming little precinct in the city of Kochi in Kerala in southern India. The Portuguese, Dutch and British established settlements here at various times over the centuries. As a result, it has been a melting pot of the east and west through the ages, assimilating cultures, food, language and more.

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Today, Fort Kochi offers visitors a unique blend of history and culture in India. And every two years, this picturesque neighbourhood opens its doors to the world of art and heritage when it hosts the prestigious Kochi-Muziris Biennale in December.

Like present-day Kochi, Muziris was an ancient harbour on the Malabar Coast. It was crucial for the interactions between South India and Persia, the Middle East, North Africa, and the (Greek and Roman) Mediterranean region. Blending the cosmopolitan metropolis with its ancient past, the biennale has featured a diverse range of works by artists from around the world, including painting, sculpture, installation, video, and performance art since its inception in 2011.

The biennale's fifth edition features 200 works from India, Australia, Kenya, Ukraine and beyond, dispersed across the historic Fort Kochi neighbourhood and runs until April 10, 2023.

The theme of the central exhibition, 'In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire,' featuring 88 artists from around the globe, is a fitting artistic response as the biennale returns after a gap of four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Curated by Ms Shubigi Rao, the biennale is a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

"What do we find when we listen, read, record, think and make?" asks Ms Rao, an Indian-Signaporean artist, adding, "For one, that even the most solitary of journeys is not one of isolation, but drinks deeply from that common wellspring of collective knowledge and ideas."

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"Returning after a gap of 4 years, the 5th edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale examines how we survive through song, materiality, joy, humour, and through language, whether written, verbal, and oral," said Ms Rao.

And art lovers have responded with enthusiasm. The energy and excitement at the fifth edition are palpable as you enter Aspinwall House, the biennale's main venue. This 19th-century white-walled structure by the waterfront was historically used to export spices, tea and other goods from India. It has stood stoic witness to the turn of the tides during colonial rule.

Pepper House and Anand Warehouse, the other main venues for the biennale, are just as vibrant. The former, a Dutch-style warehouse, started its life in the spice trade and, in recent years, has become a vibrant centre for the arts. Anand Warehouse continues as a flourishing centre in the spice trade. Here, bare brick walls and timber beams create a stark backdrop for international artworks at the biennale.

The works on display are as diverse as the countries they represent.

"It is a celebration of an honouring of sorts," says Mario D'Souza, director of programmes, "of artists' responses to social and political situations around the world—be it of resistance and erasure, in their own context."

Kerala Tourism
©Kerala Tourism

Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova's 'Palianytsia' stands out through its simplicity and depth. Through an installation of rocks that Kadyrova shaped as traditional Ukrainian bread (Palianytsia) and set on a table for a meal, the Kyiv-based artist gives new meaning to these stones. They become a symbol of cultural and territorial resistance. After the Russian invasion, Kadyrova fled to the west of Ukraine and has been using her art as a tool for humanitarian fundraising for her country.

'Indian Fantasies: Species and Spices' by Colectivo Ayllu tells stories from the opposite hemisphere. Founded in 2009 in Spain, Colectivo Ayllu is a group of migrants, people of colour and sexually and gender-diverse artists, activists and historians from the ex-Spanish colonies in South America. The exhibit retells stories of the repression of the indigenous people from the colonies after the arrival of European settlers.

Twenty-eight-year-old Pranay Dutta from India is the youngest artist at the Biennale. His work 'Day Zero and Neti' reflects his anxieties about the impact of war and climate change on human lives. Using black-and-white imagery on video game landscapes, Dutta creates dystopian mindscapes to depict how water would become the currency for survival in a future world.

"Day Zero was born out of what happened in Chennai in 2019 and Cape Town in 2018," says Dutta. "Access to water was controlled and limited to the privileged. So I started envisioning the not-so-distant future where water - the fuel of survival - becomes the primary currency," he adds.

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©Kerala Tourism

From installations on histories and futuristic visions to shadow puppet performances and live music, from engaging talks to enthralling dance performances, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a true celebration of contemporary art.

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"Enter anywhere, linger in one spot if you feel the urge," says Shubigi Rao, "Don't fret about cramming everything in. I certainly didn't, as the curator. There are always fissures in any edifice. These gaps are as important as the 'filled' spaces—for the viewer can populate these lacunae with their own imaginations and their stories."

Fort Kochi offers plenty of options for accommodation for visitors at the biennale. Within a short walk from the main venues, you will find boutique hotels—many converted from stately 19th-century mansions. Each offers you experiences of a lifetime while you immerse yourself in contemporary art.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale brings together the cosmopolitan spirit of modern Kochi and its mythical past in a celebration of art. There's something for everyone, and no visitor will go back without feeling awe, tempered with quiet reflection.

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