Kochi opens three-month cultural extravaganza

Kochi: Curtains rise here Wednesday on the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale, a three-month event to portray Kerala`s soft power and also draw artists of every muse from both within and outside India for an extravaganza of art, culture and heritage on a scale unseen in India.

More than 80 influential artists from around the globe will showcase their creativity through a variety of mediums such as art installations, paintings, sculpture, music and films as Kerala seeks to enjoin Kochi, which represents the contemporary, with the biblical-era port town of Muziris that symbolises heritage.

Among the treats that await residents and visitors is a fusion of Kerala`s famed Chenda drums with the resonant voice of Britain-based Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, a Sri Lankan-born musician, better known as M.I.A., whose track for "Slumdog Millionnaire" was nominated for the Oscars.

Another treat is the cutting edge art of Kerala-born painter Paris Viswanathan, who returns home to recreate his four-decade-old masterpieces showing the essence of human life through grains of sand. Joining him are artists Subodh Gupta and Vivan Sundaram.

The big names from overseas include Ariel Hassan from Argentina, Amanullah Mojadidi from Afghanistan, Rigo23 from Portugal, Joseph Semah, an Israeli based in Amsterdam, Ernesto Neto from Brazil, and Jonas Staal from the Netherlands.

The artists - 22 of whom trace their roots to Kerala, an equal number from other parts India and the rest from across the globe -- will show their talent at nine venues of this ancient port city, including the recently renovated British-era warehouse, the Aspinwall at Fort Kochi.

A number of installations have also been mounted in rambling public spaces and heritage buildings, such as Pepper House in Fort Kochi. The other spots of artistic activity are Cochin Club, David Hall, Moidu`s Heritage and Parade Ground.

Also being staged are traditional percussion ensembles of Kerala like chenda melam, thayambaka and panchavadyam, contemporary Malayalam plays, theatre-based koodiyatam, ballets of kathakali, the resurgent classical dance of mohiniyattam and folklores-based ottanthullal.

Besides, there is a festival screening 10 world-class films selected by acclaimed director Adoor Gopalakrishnan and a football film festival curated by writer N.S. Madhavan.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is set to inaugurate the event Wednesday evening as his state -- which markets itself as `God`s Own Country` -- hopes to attract some 800,000 visitors, from India and abroad during the three-month season.

Globally, Biennale has a history that dates back to 1895, when Venice in Italy held one such event. Since then, as the organisers of here state, it has seen some 150 editions across the globe. For india, it is the first.

The event is being brought together by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, led by Bose Krishnamachari, 50, and Riyas Komu, 40, its Malayali curators. Already, Kochi has been declared a Biennale City by the state government.

"Through the celebration of contemporary art from around the world, Kochi Muziris Biennale seeks to invoke the historic cosmopolitan legacy of the modern metropolis of Kochi, and its mythical predecessor the ancient port of Muziris," said Krishnamachari.

"This is a non-commercial project. The exhibits are open to all. The programme of events will run for three months closing on 13/03/13. The Biennale will then take place every two years in Kochi and Muziris."