Kochi-Muziris Biennale: bringing art to the streets

Engaging, touching, invoking emotions and making people talk art – this was the tone set by the first ever Kochi Muziris Biennale
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

A large, human size light bulb propped up by wires and a framework of cane gently stirs with the ruffle of the balmy breeze, as the ferry from Ernakulam arrives in Fort Kochi. Installed in the initial weeks of December, it is now a near permanent feature for those who take the ferry every day. On the left hand, in the middle of an unkempt plot of land, the bulb doesn’t fail to catch eyeballs of heat-battered travellers, local tourists and regulars who spill out of the bobbing ferry and onto the platform. Absurd, fascinating and for some, downright outrageous! The bulb is my first tryst with the art festival of Kochi.  This was last year.

Like me, 1.5 lakh people walked the city over three months taking in abstruse works of art from all parts of the world – a breakthrough for India in my opinion. As I heaved my backpack and started walking towards my hotel, I saw perplexed fishermen, khadi kurta donning intellectuals and art students flocking art pit stops along the way. For me, an interactive installation at Mandalay House and massive charcoal sketches of faces near the Chinese fishing nets were the most enthralling.

Engaging, touching, invoking emotions and making people talk art – this was the tone that was set by the first ever Biennale at Kochi. The Kochi Muziris Biennale came about in the end of 2013 for the first time, and spanned over three months showcasing art from all over the world. Though the Italian word ‘biennale’ means ‘every other year’, this seems to be an annual affair on the Kochi calendar. The name Muziris comes from the ancient seaport that served as a gateway to Arab and Jewish traders in 1st century AD, now in the adjoining area North of Kochi. This year, Bose Krishnamachari, co-founder of the Kochi Muziris Biennale and his team have managed to usher in the same surge of interest – for three months again.


The run-up to the event started with a Banksy-nian graffiti with wry humour on the mossy walls of the city
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

The run-up to the event started with a Banksy-nian graffiti with wry humour on the mossy walls of the city. The anonymous artist used world figures to poke a protest at the art fair; Colonel Sanders flipped Kerala parottas and Mona Lisa transformed into a voluptuous village woman in black and white. But the Biennale is well on its way to another successful year of bringing names like Akbar Padamsee from India, Chen Chieh-Jen from Taiwan, Hans Op de Beeck from Belgium, Khalil Rabah from Palestine, Michael Stevens from UK and many more from around the world to the Indian streets. It is heartening when art makes an appeal for social intervention and interaction. It’s for everyone to grab and own. The great part of the Biennale is how the venues mingle into the backdrop of the town. Old houses between markets, art galleries, walls and public places make it accessible to everyone. It is not confined to a sterile environment of a gallery. You don’t have to talk in whispers and glare at an exhibit with furrowed eyebrows.


The festival kicked off in December 2014 and will continue till 29th March, 2015.

Getting There

Ernakulam is connected well by flights and trains from major cities of India. The overnight bus service is efficient from South Indian cities.

Places to stay

1. Tom’s Old Mansion – phone: 0484 2215605; www.tomsoldmansionkochi.com; Princess Street; Rs 1500–3000 (inclusive of breakfast).
2. Eliphinstone Residency – phone: 0484 2218222; www.eliphinstoneresidency.com; Beach Road; Rs 2800–4000 (inclusive of breakfast).
3. Silver Weed Homestay – phone: 9995205828; www.silverweedhomestay.com; 11/88 Near ESI Junction; Rs 1500 (inclusive of breakfast).

For more, log on to kochimuzirisbiennale.org.

AUTHOR'S BIO: With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on: www.supriyasehgal.com