The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is an international contemporary art exhibition held in Kochi, Kerala. Indian and international artists showcase their artworks in different media including, paintings, installations, sculptures, film and performance art, in the largest art exhibition in India and the biggest contemporary art festival in Asia. Artists display their artworks across the city in galleries, halls, and installation-specific places such as heritage buildings, abandoned structures and public places. Here are Eikowa’s top 15 must experience artists at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2018
1. Georges Rousse: Georges Rousse is a French contemporary artist known for large-scale photographs depicting painted alterations within existing spaces. In Kochi, he chose the walls of an abandoned 18th-century spice wear-house. He’s used 3 simple geometric shapes used in architecture – square, circle, triangle. In this context, they would come to oppose the disorder that grew out of abandonment and the passing of time. His other art is a stunning artwork at the wear-house that depicts the idea of heterogeneous elements, gathering together.
2. Prabhakar Pachpute: Showcasing his work ‘Resilient Bodies in the Era of Resistance’ at Kochi Muziris Biennale, Prabhakar Pachpute leads the onlookers to scarred landscapes and underground arenas of coal mines. The dark and heavy lines of charcoal resonate the conditions and inner lives of coal miners. Pachpute’s art revolves around the farmers’ needs in the nation. He illustrates the effect of the industrial ordinance on the lives of the mine labours along with the protests of Indian farmers.
3. Henri Dono: The training in Wayang which is a form of Indonesian puppetry, adapted from the promulgation of Hindu mythology and Tholu Bommalata storytelling from Southern India, inspired Henri Dono’s art. The artist merges the Hindu Javanese culture with other theatrical forms and figures. At Kochi, Dono’s ‘The Trojan Ships’ and ‘Smiling Angles from the Sky’ are installations of hanging sculptures. ‘The Trojan Horses’ is influenced by the Greek Myth of Trojan Horse’s deceptive entrance into the city of Troy, however, Dono’s artwork, the flying boats bear figures on peace mission instead of agents of war. ‘Smiling Angles from the Sky’ is an installation of 10 angels, with pleasant toy faced aeroplanes. These angels portray the ubiquitous message of hope and are not influenced by a single religion or tradition and are thus cherished by everyone they come across.
4. Marzia Farhana: Marzia Farhana is a Dhaka based artist who used various media such as furniture, newspapers, books, paintings, videos, etc. in her installation. Farhana’s raw aesthetic and ephemeral approach of art making is found on the conviction that you can make art out of everyday objects and draw meaning and association out of them. At the Biennale, the artist’s multi-media installation titled ‘Ecocide and the Rise of Free Fall’, is an installation of items destroyed during the October 2018 Kerala floods. Her work signals the towards the eco-catastrophe provoked by substantial commercialisation, human exploitation, commodity fetishism and industrialised destruction of nature.
5. Martha Rosler: Martha Rosler’s work pivots on one thing; how consumer-driven images; in television commercials, magazine advertisements, billboards etc, want to distract us from the actual problems in the world. She creates photomontages such as House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home from the late 1960s and later in 2004, emphasis on the United State’s entry into the Vietnam War and its annexation into Iraq and Afghanistan. These photomontages reiterate the injustices of military misadventures in the 1960s. Her other series between the 1960s and 1970s; Body, Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain questioned the then predominate structures of misogyny and privilege.
6. Young-hae Chang and Marc Voge: Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) is a collective that has been making art for the internet platforms since the early 2000s. They make text-based animations. At Kochi Biennale, their ‘Art is a Lie that Just Won’t Die’ is a video that depicts an inner monologue contemplating between what makes art good or bad. The video begins with an unseen narrator ironically stating that a select few decide what goes on the museum walls, thus saving the artists making bad art from any embarrassment, however, it concludes with ‘Art is the stuff of life, dammit’ emphasising that good art is not confined to museum walls, but is all around us.
7. Giles Clarke: He is a photojournalist based in New York City. Clarke’s work revolves around humanitarian and conflict issues. At Kochi Biennale, the photojournalist has showcased his work that depicts the current state of Yemen. The country is entrapped between the ongoing Iranian-backed Houthi rebel and the Saudi-led coalition along with the rebel Al-Qaeda thus stripping off the nation from its basic necessities and leaving it into huge chaos. These images depict Yemen’s condition, engulfed between natural calamities, street battles, wars between neighbouring countries and lawless organisations.
8. Vinu VV: Vinu’s artwork at Kochi Biennale 2018; ‘Ocha’ meaning sound or voice in Malayalam, is installations of numerous life-sized wooden sculptures and about 300 wood figurines that provide a voice to marginalised people of the Kerala society. The artist has used the wood of Othalam Cerebra (Odollam), that bears poisonous fruits and is thus inauspiciously know as suicide tree. The small figurines nailed to large coconut trees resonate ritual from Chottanikkara temple, where women who are suspected to be possessed by evil spirits are compelled with huge nails through their foreheads to the temple walls.
9. Jitish Kallat: Jitish Kallat’s artworks unveil his persistent engagement with ideas related to time, sustenance, recursion and historical recall, often braided with dense cosmopolis and distant cosmos. At Kochi, his installations; Untitled (Two Minutes to Midnight) compares two points from two different timelines; one from the primaeval past and other directing towards the forecasted future. His sculptures at the Biennale, portray various palaeolithic tools and weapons, depicting man’s first attempt to change the planet. The tools and prehistoric mammals and reptiles are showcased on a pedestal shaped similar to the hands of the prominent Doomsday Clock.
10. Chitra Ganesh: Chitra Ganesh creates digitally collaged comic strips, that illustrate the popular form’s content and aesthetics with her own texts and drawings. She leaves space for the third story to exist in which viewers connect together the fragments she intentionally leaves untold. Her artworks such as ‘Still Awaiting her Time’ utilises the dystopian devices of science fiction and portrays a female character caught in the beam of a UFO’s light.
11. Vanessa Baird: Vanessa Baird paints watercolours for blissful sceneries, children’s books illustrations to the brutal, sexual and otherwise bodily realities of human tragedy and emotions. At Kochi, Baird’s paintings portray the mundane, wearisome, daily home life. She emphasises on situations where women feel confined, unable to unleash the psychological and physical torment that patriarchy imposes on women and men alike.
12. Nick UT: Nick UT is an acclaimed photographer, who is renowned for single-handedly bringing an end to the most heinous war of the 20th century. He covered the war in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and his photograph ‘The Terror of War’ won prominent photography awards. The said photograph shows children running away from a napalm bombing on their village; Trang Bang. Kim Phuc, the naked 9-year-old girl in the photo became the face of everything ill about the war.
13. The Clothesline Kochi: ‘The Clothesline’ is a participatory installation where the artist invites people to share their experiences. Usually, sexual harassment and social experience of women are the focal questions for this project, however, owing to the recent dreadful floods in Kerala and the horrific earthquakes in Mexico, this time, the artist also encouraged the audience to convey their experiences from the said natural calamities.
14. Vipin Dhanurdharan: Vipin Dhanurdharan is a self-taught multimedia artist. He moves through the cityscapes, conversing, intervening and participating in the daily life. At Kochi Biennale, he took from Sahodaran Ayyappan’s community dining and started Sahodarar. While Ayyappan’s motivation behind the idea was to reduce the caste discrimination, Dhanurdharan has adopted the idea to further reduce the remaining discrimination. Throughout the Biennale, Vipin is organising a communal dining experience, once a week, where those specialising in local cuisine will cook traditional recipes in an open kitchen, serving food to people who are interested. The artist sketched portraits of people who greeted his idea and embraced him into their homes. He has showcased these portraits at the Biennale.
15. Nilima Sheikh: Nilima Sheikh explores the transmission of knowledge through different languages — poetry, craftsmanship, illustrations, etc. — that communicate subtleties of human experience. At the Biennale, her art revolves around the omnipresent Malayalee nurses. ‘Salam Chechi’, as the name suggests, is a salute to these brave women, the unsung heroes, who travel to foreign lands to take up the job of caring for unknown people in pain, suffering the unthinkable. This series applauds the Malayalee nurses, who are literally and figuratively sisters to all.