Spotlight on India`s Venice Biennale debut

New Delhi: India`s debut at the 54th edition of the prestigious art exhibition Venice Biennale, beginning June 3 in the historic Italian city, will be a contemporary showcase featuring seven mixed media art works christened "Everyone Agrees: Its About to Explode" by four leading artists.

This is the first time India is participating at the 116-year-old biennale as an official entrant sponsored by the ministry of culture.

The artists whose works will grace India`s maiden panorama include India-born New York-based artist Zarina Hashmi, Gigi Scaria of Delhi, Guwahati-based Desire Machine Collective (DMC), a multi-media art intervention collaboration between Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya; and Praneet Soi, who works out of Kolkata and Amsterdam.

The exhibition will be curated by Mumbai-based critic, curator and art historian Ranjit Hoskote.

The biennale traces its origin to 1895 when it was just a decorative showcase of arts. It became more international in the first decades of the 20th century. In 1907, several countries erected their national pavilions at the exhibition.

Over the years, it has grown into one of the world`s biggest and the most elite art carnivals drawing the best of visual art showcases from across the world. The exhibition has 28 settled country pavilions built inside the Giardini - the core area of the biennale.

"The India pavilion at the art fair in Italy will be located at a 250 sq metre space in Arsenal - a complex of old shipyards and armouries - for four months beginning June 4-Nov 28 at an estimated cost Rs.2 crore," Sudhakar Sharma, secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), told IANS in the capital.

The cost includes travel and transportation of the art works, rental and acoustics, Sharma said. The exhibition, likely to be inaugurated by culture minister Kumari Selja, will open to the public June 4 after three days of previews.

"It took us so long to exhibit in Venice because this is the first time the culture ministry is sponsoring it and the LKA has endorsed it. The ministry has initiated the whole exercise was initiated by the culture ministry. While selecting the art work, the thrust was to think of showcase as a symbol India," Sharma said.

The LKA has planned an awareness building campaign as well - in Delhi, Mumbai and Guwahati - to acquaint people with the concerns of the India Pavilion in Venice.

A panel of experts featuring scholars, critics, curators and art conservators has been invited to speak about them in a series of fora, Sharma said.

"The art works are a strong symbolic statement because this is the first time India is at the biennale. When you have a country of a billion people, then the culture scene is thriving and art is vibrant. The exhibits indicate the strength of it," Hoskote told IANS.

Hoskote said: "One can be India in different ways from different locations. India is not a territorially bounded entity. It expands in the global space of imagination."

For Hoskote, New York-based Zarina Hashmi represents "post-partition and diasporic sentiments".

Born in Aligarh in 1937, Hashmi challenges the perceptions of space and borders through her work - in the way familiar locations in the country are delimited, traversed and the memories they invoke in us.

"I have chosen from Hashmi`s existing body of work. They are powerful," Hoskote said.

The DMC has shot a 35 mm film for the Venice showcase to portray cultures, realities and change in the region.

The film "re-imagines India in a way and re-discovers the northeast", the curator says.

The DMC has also created an alternative art space on a ferry in the Brahmaputra river that carries on oral, literary and folk traditions of the region and facilitates exchange of cultural experiences and records change.

"One of my points was to draw attention to the fact that you don`t have to belong to the metropolis to be cosmopolitan," said the curator.

Artist Praneet Soi works across spaces with the marginalised potters and clay idol makers of Kumartuli - a old potters` colony by the bank of the Ganges in Kolkata and in the biennale circuits across the world, interpreting urban realities and figures in his murals.

Soi is creating a 50-feet mural in Venice.

Mixed media artist Gigi Scaria represents the internal migration to curator Hoskote. His works portray the changing social realities and "interpretations of home". He is making video installations for Venice.