"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)


Up And Away!

Enough is enough.

rain (1 )

Today we fly.
Not very far;
Just over 550 km (350 miles) across the southern tip of the Western Ghats, Deccan Plateau and Eastern Ghats.

From the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, India’s opposite coast.

To Chennai, state capital of Tamil Nadu, and the Madras of former times.

A friend has an installation on show in the city.


And I need to get out of my house!

The weather forecast mentions more rain in Chennai.

Not to worry:
I must learn not to fret over that which I cannot control.

Picture of a puddled lane taken in Fort Cochin.

Cochin’s Biennale: The BBC’s Perspective

Indian art, Venice style – Kochi hosts first Biennale

By Rajini Vaidyanathan BBC News, Kochi

An installation at the Biennale
The Biennale features more than 80 artists.

India’s first art biennale, its largest ever gathering of contemporary artists, has opened in the southern city of Kochi. The exhibition, modelled on similar ones across the world, particularly in Venice, features more than 80 artists.

“This is a bit like a wedding, and a family get together, and it means a lot to us,” says artist Atul Dodiya as he runs around his exhibition, greeting people as they arrive, like an expectant groom ushering in guests.

December is peak marriage season in India, a fitting time perhaps for the country to hold what is being seen as a life-affirming event for its contemporary art scene.

“The first biennale is extremely important, it’s an international event with people coming from all over to celebrate,” says Mr Dodiya.

Like any good Indian wedding there is a sense of organised chaos. On opening day many of the installations were still being created, with ladders and workmen serving as an accompaniment to the art.

What makes this gathering of artists so unique are the spaces in which they are exhibiting.

In a country starved of museums and galleries, Kochi has provided a perfect backdrop to showcase the art.

Old warehouses used in the days of the spice trade more than two centuries ago, works of art in themselves with their high ceilings and wooden beam structures, have been transformed into venues.

Mr Dodiya’s offering – “Celebration in the laboratory” – is being shown in an old science lab and features photographs of Indian artists, including celebrated painters MF Husain, Akbar Padamsee and SH Raza.

Well known for his paintings, this is his first-ever photographic installation, a sign of how Indian contemporary art is evolving.

Niche audienceOn offer at the biennale are a range of creations that use video, audio, even scent, alongside the more “conventional” forms of paintings and sculptures.

When Mr Dodiya went to art school in the 1970s, his parents were warned by friends their son might starve if he followed such a path. Today, he commands hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work.

But it is still a very niche audience that consumes contemporary art in India, something the biennale hopes to change.

The event opened with a performance from the Grammy award-winning singer M.I.A, who played to a crowd that included local teenage boys, tourists, international art enthusiasts and hipsters from across India.

The melting pot in the mosh pit reflects the mixed clientele organisers hope to attract during the three-month-long exhibition.

“India very badly needed a space where there was a meeting of art, that brought contemporary art to more people,” says Riyas Komu, who conceived the idea for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale along with Mumbai-based artist Bose Krishnamachari.

Not inclusive enough?India’s art scene centres around Delhi and Mumbai, but the biennale was conceived around Kochi, not just because its creators hail from Kerala but due to the exhibition space many of the disused buildings and warehouses offered.

One of the main venues, Aspinwall house, is a sprawling former spice warehouse which in the 19th Century was owned by an English businessman John H Aspinwall, who traded in pepper, coconut oil, coffee and lemongrass oil.

But despite efforts to bring art to the community, organisers have faced criticism that the event wasn’t inclusive enough.

Anti-biennale groups have put up posters in the town and, according to reports, even burned brochures to protest against what they say is a corporate-driven occasion which does not promote enough local artists.

“From a curatorial point of view, when you choose 80 artists from all over the world, it is tough,” says Mr Komu, adding that 23 of the 82 artists showing are from Kerala.

“It’s not like it’s an excluding exercise, perhaps some of the artists who weren’t shown should have organised a fringe biennale.”

Other events such as the annual India art fair in Delhi, which will host its fifth event next February, already attract thousands of visitors every year. Organisers of the Biennale, which doesn’t offer work for sale like the art fair does, hope to attract some 800,000 visitors.

It is too early to gauge whether this will happen, but the initiative is bound to broaden the reach of contemporary art, says art critic Kishore Singh.

“We don’t have a practice of going to museums and galleries, and students don’t look at art, so the understanding of it has been extremely limited, but anything that creates a buzz and gets talked about like this will help change that.”

Mr Singh says many in India are dismissive of contemporary art and don’t properly understand it, focusing instead on the more traditional art forms the country is known for, from centuries past.

One of the exhibits at the Biennale

“People still think graffiti is contemporary art, and is very cool, and don’t believe anything else is. It’s hard to take forward a form which people don’t understand,” says 24-year-old Tarini De, who describes herself as an “anticipation artist” who uses video to express her art.

Ms De, who is from Mumbai, says the reaction she gets when she tells people she is an artist is mixed. “My family believe it’s never going to be a paying job, and it’s not a stable job,” she says.

While Ms De believes the scale of events like this Biennale go some way in convincing her parents of her career choice, she believes the biggest way to attract more interest is by having more role models, in an aspirational country like India, where the young worship sports and Bollywood stars.

“Any form of media gets successful when there are superheroes attached to it here. If there’s a proper superhero for contemporary art, people will start to emulate it. A bit like Saina Nehwal (the Olympic medallist) has done for badminton.”

The real impact of the biennale will only be clear after the three-month run is up. But it is made an impact on 18-year-old Kurien, who goes to school in Kochi.

“I’ve never seen this kind of art before, and I’m very impressed,” he says.

The very fact that he is able to see such art is a small, yet significant, sign of how things are changing.


BBC © 2012

This article has been copied, without permission, from the BBC News Web pages

A Splash Of Colour: Part 2


A Mattancherry mural.

Picture shows one of the many street artworks featuring in the Cochin Biennale.

A Splash Of Colour


Suddenly many of our local walls are splashed in colour.
The Cochin Biennale has begun.

Picture taken in Mattancherry, Cochin

An Art Installation?

Or maybe just parts of Shaji’s bicycle-frame hanging in my yard,
and in the process of being repainted.

Northern Exposure: Part 6


Picture taken at the Institute of Handicraft and Handloom, Gangtok, Sikkim.

Covering All Bases


Kerala vendors of devotional art cater for all local demand:
Islāmic, Hindu and Christian.


Putting On A Show

art 001


When my friend Sunil entered a couple of his pictures into a local art show, I knew I must make the effort and attend the opening.

Six in the evening is relatively late for me to be gallivanting on the mainland, so an auto-rickshaw was summoned.

We chuntered our way through the evening traffic, across the bridges to the mainland and rush hour gridlock, but finally arrived.

Anu helped me up the steep and narrow stairs to the gallery.

Sunil and the owner warmly greeted me. Young artists, recently graduated from Thrissur, came to say hello.

Vegetable samosas and chai, served in flimsy cardboard cups, were offered.


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They put on a fine show.

Deconstructing Art



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A Private Hanging

Some months ago Sunil Laal, a young and rising Kerala artist, was in search of a temporary studio. I offered him the use of my out-house for a few weeks.

Sunil painted a diptych, “The Hidden Flower”, and kindly gave the pictures to me.

Today my carpenter, Sebastian, came to hang them in my hall.



These events are rarely quite as simple as envisaged: my concrete walls proved to be exceedingly tough and a more powerful drill had to be fetched; the furniture needed rearranging into new and more pleasing symmetries once the pictures were up. But the task is now happily complete.

Sebastian has been hastily dispatched upstairs: to hang more pictures in the upper hall and move a wall cabinet to a different room. His wife has just delivered a new baby. I don’t know when he will be free again..


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Less than an hour’s journey from Thrissur is the Kalamandalam, Kerala’s school of performing arts.



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On our tour of the campus, we join up with a party of very English Girl Guides.

It seems a somewhat surreal juxtaposition.


The Art Of Kalam


The current arts festival in Thrissur celebrates the vanishing art of Kalam, an ancient Kerala folk tradition associated with the cult of Kali.

During the day a floor painting is drawn, using pigments from ground rice, turmeric, charcoal and other natural products.


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But as darkness descends, the celebration takes on a more sinister form.


Patron To The Arts

I bought my home in Kerala eighteen months ago.

My final choice of house, like the decision to settle 5,00 miles from all that might seem safe and familiar, was not entirely logical.

The house is far too big for my needs and the outside grounds too small for a garden.

But life is not logical.

My home and living on the Malabar coast both give me immense happiness.


As if to confirm the eccentricity of my purchase, the deal included an old, run-down outhouse, complete with rubbish


and out.

Although my priority was to get the main house in good decorative and working order, I often wondered what should be done with the annex.

But a solution has been found.

The out-house has been painted.

My electrician summoned:

Lights and a fan installed,

Mosquito mesh fitted.


A local artist is to use the upstairs space of the outhouse

for a studio.

A make-shift desk is created.

Sumant, my house-boy, finds himself requisitioned as a life-model.

Art is underway.



(Please don’t wince, Lucille!)


Fine Art



Kerala has just one college of fine art.



On Saturday I travelled to Thrissur, and spent my happy hour at their graduation exhibition.