‘Largest Temporary Museum of Contemporary Art is Kochi Biennale’

In a year defined by controversies surrounding large-scale exhibitions, first at the Berlin Biennale and then at Documenta 15, India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) offers a ray of hope.

‘Largest Temporary Museum of Contemporary Art is Kochi Biennale’

“This edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the fifth one, has a budget of Rs. 22.25 crores, of which 7 crores are given by the Kerala state government as the prime sponsor from the start, apart from liberal support from BMW, TNQ, Faisal & Shabana Foundation, and many more. However, we are still on debt, and the begging bowl efforts are still on,” notes one of the two co-founders of the biennale, Bose Krishnamachari, an artist himself educated in Mumbai and London.

In a year defined by controversies surrounding large-scale exhibitions, first at the Berlin Biennale and then at Documenta 15, India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) offers a ray of hope. Nurtured for four years by Singapore-based artist Shubigi Rao, the fifth edition of the Biennale, titled “In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire,” is finally opening its doors on December 23 after being postponed twice due to Covid-19 and then again just two weeks ago due to “organizational challenges.”

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The literature on the Biennale shows several other corporate sponsors, like Tata, Air India, Lulu Finserve, JSW, Finolex Pipes, Blossom, DTALE, Kirloskar, Blue Star, VGuard, HCL Foundation, Grand Canyon, BookMyShow, Kochi Metro and many more.

“This is actually not a huge budget if compared with European Biennales, like the Venice one has an excess of 30 million Euros (above Rs.300 crores),” Bose says, adding, “Three out of our 14 locations are in kind, rest all rented, with the main Aspinwall House location with the largest number of artwork displayed, costing us Rs.25 lacs a month in rent. To raise the costs, we work yearlong though the Foundation.”From the business perspective, the Biennale is an important event for the city of Kochi and the state of Kerala. It attracts a large number of tourists, art collectors, and art enthusiasts from around the world, which in turn generates significant revenue for the local economy. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Development Studies in 2018, the Biennale contributed an estimated Rs 216 crore ($29 million) to the local economy during its 108-day run. This time around it is of 120 days, the longest in the history of Kochi Biennale, ending on April 10, 2023.

The Biennale also creates opportunities for local businesses and artists. Local restaurants, hotels, and transportation providers see a significant increase in business during the event, while local artists have the opportunity to showcase their works alongside international artists and gain exposure to a wider audience.

In addition to its economic impact, the Biennale also has a broader cultural and social impact. It promotes cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, and provides a platform for artists from diverse backgrounds to come together and share their ideas and perspectives. It also helps to foster a sense of pride and identity among the local community, as it showcases the rich cultural heritage of Kerala and its artistic talent.

It’s worth noting that the Biennale is typically funded through a combination of government support, corporate sponsorships, and individual donations. The exact cost of organizing the event can vary from year to year depending on various factors such as the number of artists and artworks, the scale of the exhibition, and the duration of the event. Similarly, the revenue generated from the event can depend on factors such as attendance, sponsorship deals, and merchandise sales. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that the organizers of the Kochi Art Biennale work hard to ensure that the event is financially sustainable and has a positive economic impact on the region.

How is this edition different?

There is a new curator, Subhigi Rao, born in India, living and working in Singapore, who travelled 35 nations to curate this edition, which has been delayed and postponed since 2020 till 2022-23, due to Covid pandemic.

Bose believes that there was no earlier opportunity to experience original contemporary art, from global sources and contexts. Who’s who of the artists and the common artists together, even audience has the common man, students together in this Biennale. There are sections like Students’ Biennale and Art by Children (ABC). And Malayalee artists are specially curated in the Durbar at Ernakulam (34 artists). There were Workshops leading to ABC and students’ art: art rooms in schools. There is a distinctive integration of art, film, literature, photography, memoirs, etc.

However, Bose insists that there is no sales of art as it is not an art fair. Biennale is a temporary museum of contemporary art. It has for the first time in India brought in the emerging tech in art, various uses of virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Bose believes that the future is design, aesthetics and technology converged. The Biennale also has sought to implement a South-South cooperation in art here, in which the art of Asia is the most dominant phenomenon.

The Kochi Biennale prides in its declared values of Diversity, Multiculturalism and Secularism. Kochi Fort area, the main venue of the Biennale, is of 4.5 sq km and home to many people who speak at home Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil etc, but Malayalee outside. There are 44 different communities, speaking 13 different languages.

“Hence, there is a multiculturalism locally, and also globally. International audience is huge. Some three times more audience than earlier editions. During the weekends, there is virtually no space. A large number of Indian students also coming.  Nat Geo mentioned Kochi Fort and Biennale as must visit place. New York Times noted it to be one of the best destinations to visit in 2023,” says Bose.

Overall, the Kochi Art Biennale has become an important event for the art world, the local community, and the economy of Kochi and Kerala. Its success demonstrates the power of art to bring people together and promote economic and cultural development.

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury,
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Adviser & Professor, Daffodil International University, Dhaka
(Earlier associated with Adamas University as Pro VC, Symbiosis & Amity Universities, Pearl Academy & WWI as Dean, and TOI, Zee, Business India Groups, and Media Advisor to Govt of India & WHO/TNF).

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‘Largest Temporary Museum of Contemporary Art is Kochi Biennale’
In a year defined by controversies surrounding large-scale exhibitions, first at the Berlin Biennale and then at Documenta 15, India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) offers a ray of hope.
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