From a bird’s eye view, this is how the Kochi-Muziris Biennale would appear: at one corner, people are walking blindfolded, at another, musicians are playing to an enthralled audience and at yet another performance, artistes are rolling in the mud. Curated by Sudarshan Shetty, the theme of the third edition of the biennale, titled Forming In The Pupil Of An Eye, takes from a belief from the Rigveda, that when a meditating sage opens his eyes to the world, he assimilates its multiplicity with just one look. The result is a smorgasbord of 97 works produced exclusively for the 108-day event by artists from 31 countries. Here’s what not to miss:
The Sea Of Pain by Raúl Zurita
Wade through knee-deep water at the Chilean poet’s installation dedicated to five-year-old Syrian refugee Galip Kurdi, whose body washed ashore after he drowned while fleeing Syria with his family in 2015. An accompanying poem reads: ‘Don’t you listen? Don’t you look? Don’t you hear me? Don’t you see me? Don’t you feel me?’ “Can anyone not be concerned with the reality of refugees? Could an artist say, ‘That is not my subject’? I do not think so,” says Zurita.
12 stories by PK Sadanandan
The sheer scale of Kerala-based artist Sadanandan’s 15-by-three metre mural, one of the largest in the country, is awe-inspiring. The message is heart-warming too; communal harmony, which Sadanandan discusses via 12 ancient stories from Kerala, painted in natural colours over the course of the biennale. “In the given political situation, I thought it was only appropriate to remind people that ancient India was a tolerant place and embraced all kinds of people,” says Sadanandan.
The Pyramid Of Exiled Poets by Aleš Šteger
The Slovene poet’s interactive work sees you struggle through the dark alleys of a pyramid made of cow dung, as a cacophony of voices read poems by exiled poets. Is this what it feels like to be wrenched from your motherland? To feel lost?
Where The Flowers Still Grow by Bharat Sikka
One of the most powerful images of Sikka’s work is a damaged shikara lying in a glass showcase. The boat almost looks wounded—like Kashmir and its inhabitants. The moving photographs of the valley’s destroyed homes and abandoned objects are evocative of the pain and loss faced by its people.
Going Playces by Orijit Sen
Curious visitors attempt to complete a jigsaw puzzle of a Goan market place, the centrepiece of the detailed work. As you engage in the physical act of putting together a place, you have flashbacks: your first all-girl trip to Goa or a sea of mustard flowers seen from a train in Punjab. Sen points out that old areas of a city often function as archives of memory, stories and folklore.
CM 182 by Endri Dani
This series of photographs by the Albanian artist features Dani standing at the entrances to several buildings in his homeland that were constructed in the communist era, their height the same as his. The repetitive imagery symbolises the stifling standardisation of communism. “The attempt here is to explore my coexistence with my past—a way to completely submerge myself in the process of creating art and highlight the influence of one’s motherland in one’s work,” he says.
Walking Out of Bayan Har by Li Bo’an
This one is at the Kottapuram Fort, at least an hour away from the main biennale—but it is worth the trek. The huge scroll (two-by-122 metres) by the late Chinese artist brings alive the ancient trade route between India and China, and the environment around the Yellow Sea. The plastic reproduction of an unfinished ink and wash figure painting scroll, made over 10 years, chronicles life in Bayan Har, a mountainous region in the south-central part of Qinghai province, where the Yellow Sea originates. The walk up and down to see the entire scroll makes you feel like a voyager seeking treasure.
Room Of Lies by Sunil Padwal
Entering this room, packed with drawings and photographs from the floor to the ceiling, is like walking into Padwal’s head. You understand how he processes things around him and creates art. It’s like watching a soliloquy, one where the artist talks of several thousand images of birds, cars, people and under-construction buildings in south Mumbai.
Bathroom Set by Dia Mehta Bhupal
From a distance, it looks ordinary. Go closer and you’ll see that this work is made entirely of newspapers and magazines that have been rolled and stuck together, creating layers of stories and giving a new perspective to the public toilet and the many stories it’s been privy to.
Défilé by AES+F
Bold, brash and shocking, the Russian collective AES+F, has dressed seven recently-deceased people in haute couture for a fashion shoot. The morbid display prompts thoughts of unchecked consumerism, forcing you to reflect upon the time and effort spent in pursuit of materialistic comfort.
Cotton jersey cat T-shirt, printed silk duchesse pencil skirt and jacquard top handle bag; all Gucci
Photograph: Andrea Varani; Styling: Rahul Vijay; Art direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Hair and Make-Up: Sandhya Shekar; Model: Varsha Thapa/Anima Creative Management; Production: Parul Menezes; Assisted by: Sejal Pendharkar (Styling); Special thanks: Airbnb.co.in