Lessons in art from Kochi-Muziris Biennale

biennale Art by Children at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale | via kochimuzirisbiennale.org

During a discussion at the recent Art Basel—a renowned international art fair—Zoe Butt, curator of the Sharjah Biennale, was asked which is the most exciting and educative biennale in the world. There are around 320 biennales happening across the globe. Butt, who have seen some of the most of the popular biennales said: "Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB)".

Sharing this anecdote during an event at Thrissur where South Indian Bank (SIB) has offered Rs 1 crore to the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility outreach, Bose Krishnamachari, the co-founder of KMB, said: "When we started, we did not expect the KMB to grow this way." But, it has grown so sensationally that Kochi is now one of the most important place of learning in the art world. The fourth edition of the biennale will start on December 12, and 90 artists from different parts of the world are expected to be featured. In a first, the coming edition will have a woman curator, Anita Dube, who has travelled to 31 countries already as part of research for the biennale.

"In 2013, the Kochi Biennale Foundation was empanelled by the government of India into the CSR rule,” said Riyas Komu, co-founder of KMB and secretary of KBF. “It was for its contributions in educating through art and social empowerment.” V.G. Mathew, managing director and chief executive officer of SIB, said at the event that KMB is an important cultural event and participating in it is a matter of privilege.

Komu said that CSR support from the organisations like SIB sends a much needed message about cultural investment.

The KBF also invests extensively in art education. “We have invested in around 35 art education institutions,” said Komu. “KBF is not an organisation which is parachuting a biennial in every two years. It is an organisation which operates 365 days. We have strong international relations and exchange programmes.”

A major project of the KBF, along with the main edition of biennale, is the Student's Biennale where students from different part of the world come and install their artworks and interact with the artists at the biennale. Komu announced that this year's Student's Biennale will be conceived as a SAARC countries' project. “The reason is that we wanted to take the legacy of the last six years of biennale and make Kochi the site of learning,” said Komu.

Another important event happening along with the next edition will be the conference of International Biennial Association—an important organisation in biennial making. “It will be a key gamechanger,” said Komu.

Art By Children (ABC), Let's Talk series, Young Residency Programme and Master Practise Studios are some other programmes, with a focus on education, run by the KBF. As part of ABC, workshops for children are held at the biennale venue. The ABC travelled extensively to more than 100 schools to conduct workshops led by experts from the field of theatre, art and craft. The Master Practise Studios and Young Residency Programme are two programmes that are organised outside educational institutions. The Master Practice Studios programme allows art students to work with master artists over an extended duration. The young residency programme offers young artists the opportunity to develop and expand their practices, and build their portfolio. The biennale has many other collateral educative projects like artist's cinema project and video lab among many other activities.

The 2016 edition of the biennale had over six lakh visitors, and is expected to exceed this year. T.J. Raphael, senior general manager, SIB, said that the support to biennale is an extension of the bank's commitment to the educational sector. Art is education; the Kochi-Muziris biennale has already proven it with its six years of legacy.