The story of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an artist initiative which derived its confidence from artists, art lovers, cultural organisations and the people of Kochi, is the story of taking on challenges to create an alternate space, of sacrifices and solidarity to build an art ecosystem for the new emerging India. Conducting the biennale in Kerala -- a state that had the world's second democratically elected communist government -- complimented by the history of the land in the context of art was an organic achievement of its legacy. Our mission is to draw energy from the rich tradition of public action and political engagement in Kerala and build a new aesthetic that integrates both the past and the present.
Kochi's cosmopolitanism has been worn by generations as a badge of honour. Kochi, a reincarnation of Muziris, is the extension of a 3000-year-old history of cultural, religious and economic exchanges. This confident engagement, which provoked human imaginations and planted the first seeds of globalisation, without disrupting the indigenous values of the land, makes Kochi the ideal place in India to host India's first Biennale, emerging as a shore for discourses. It is one that's also at the crux of the civilizational imagination - one that is economical, ideological and geopolitical. The compendium of these complexities is what gives the Kochi-Muziris Biennale a context and an enquiry. It is a quest that brought the world to these shores and it is the allure of possibilities that inspired great thinkers and saints to embark on numerous adventures - of the body and the mind.
Against all odds, the first edition of KMB, co-curated by Bose Krishnamachari and myself, which helped change the prevailing notions of art, drew nearly 400,000 people. It was an attempt to present the argument that good art is good politics. At a moment when social movements and cultural interventions are unable to find sustained traction with the populace, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale succeeded in creating and establishing a platform for art and discourse to conceptualise and act, through artist interventions, on socio-economic and political complexities of our times. This Biennale, which walked into people, proposed a new way of engaging and understanding contemporary developments in social movement politics in a country which has been historically resistant towards engaging and exploring through art.
It is also worth remembering that the KMB is a project in appreciation of, and an education about, artistic expression and its relationship with society. Post-independence Kerala has been reliant on remittance economy especially from the Gulf migrants. Migration has been a key engine of social, political and economic restructuring in Kerala in the last 30 years (a large number of artists, from Raja Ravi Varma onwards, established themselves after migrating to other parts of India including Bose Krishnamachari and myself). This prompted in the social consciousness of the Malayali that the 'Gulf man' was at the peak of 'social statuses'. Perhaps this process also brought with it, inadvertently, exposure to cultures by way of seeing 'cosmopolitanism' at work.
There is now a new confidence borne out of a resident community that has travelled the world and has been exposed to other cultures. Kochi, in fact, is the crucible where Malayali cosmopolitanism is being re-imagined. It is in this backdrop of an earnest enquiry that we propose to make Kochi the repository of emerging ideas and ideologies as KMB seeks to reflect the new confidence of Indian people who are slowly, but surely, building a new society that aims to be liberal, inclusive, egalitarian and democratic.
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