Gearing up for its third edition next month, the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) continues to bank on generosity of locals and patrons to keep the wheels moving for what is touted to be the biggest showcase of contemporary art in South Asia. Beginning December 12 in Kochi, India's only biennale will this year see 97 artists from 36 countries creating artworks spread over 12 venues. It is being brought together by Sudarshan Shetty, whose curatorial vision extends beyond visual art to include poets, writers, theatre artistes and musicians. "It is amazing to see how the locals have adopted the biennale. The other day in Kochi a rickshaw guy offered to assist me in case I needed any help with reaching out to South American artists. "He claimed to have knowledge about them. This kind of thing is quite unthinkable in other parts of the country," Shetty said. Accompanied by Bose Krishnamachari who had co-founded the biennale in December 2012, Shetty was recently in the city to participate in a programme to talk about the upcoming festival that is scheduled to run its course for 108 days till March 29, 2017. The discussion organised by the Young Ficci Ladies Organisation was hosted by Saffronart Gallery here. "In the first edition, 63 per cent of the funding to KMB was given by the state government and the rest by patrons.
Initially, there were many questions but once the biennale began people opened up their wallets," said Krishnamachari, who is an accomplished painter.
The current demonetisation and withdrawal of most circulated currency notes have made it difficult to pay carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers and other support staff but work continues to go on, according to Krishnamachari.
"We have had some issues with the schedule of the artists and support staff who are working to get things ready before the biennale begins, but work has not come to a complete halt. We are working on paying them through cheques and online payments.
"We also have to look into returning the works when the biennale closes but the state government has promised to extend support," he said.
The biennale initially encountered funding and space problems but the artist says once it began, the local people took over with a sense of ownership with even autorickshaw and cab drivers taking people to see art in galleries instead of the usual tourist attractions. "The wife of an artist offered her gold chain to tide over a crunch, we have had artists like Vivan Sundaram putting in their own money and coming forward to help us. "A couple offered their choir factory as space. Patronage is not coming only from the artist community but also from local people," said the co-founder. The Kerala state government had pledged Rs 7.5 crore for the artists-run biennale and the organisers have been touring the country over the past few months to raise funds. According to Krishnamachari, the biennale has provided people with cultural spaces where they can go and see art. Incidentally, the artist had also curated the inaugural edition of the Yinchuan Biennale in China that started on September 9 this year. "We did not have any cultural space where we could go and see art, after Kochi people have started realising that there are many other biennales happening," he said. For the upcoming edition, Shetty has brought together a medley of people, cutting across disciplines - poet Raul Zurita from Chile, filmmaker and theatre person Anamika Haksar filmmaker Erik Van Lieshout from Rotterdam among others. "There is also dancer and choreographer Chandralekha's unfinished piece we are showing to the event. She died before it could be staged," said Shetty.