India's first arts biennale begins in Kochi

Story highlights

  • The Indian city of Kochi will host India's first ever international arts festival
  • The Kochi-Muziris Biennale will run for three months and display works by Indian and international artists
  • Lacking traditional arts spaces, the organizers have commissioned heritage houses throughout Kochi to host the festival
The port-city of Kochi, on India's west coast, isn't known for its arts scene.
Nestled amid Kerala's famously stunning backwaters (travel writers have long loved touting the streams that snake through the rural countryside as the quintessential bucket-list endeavor), the city is more readily defined by its breathtaking backdrop.
From today and for the next three months, that will change, as the world's culture vultures descend into Kochi to attend one of India's first international arts festivals: the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Even since Venice introduced the world to the biennale in 1895, the word has been symbolic of a city's cultural ascendency. Often, biennales demonstrate a region's savvy through showcasing the direction the contemporary arts scene will go in coming seasons.
Kochi has something a little different planned. Rather than focusing on the future, this biennale's theme centres very much on Kochi's history.
In particular, it will put a spotlight on Muziris, India's answer to Atlantis. Muziris was a prosperous trading hub that from the first century B.C. that supplied the world with everything from spices to precious stones.
The city drew traders from as far as Rome, Greece and China. It was active up until the 14th century, when it mysteriously disappeared under the sea -- perhaps by a flood or tsunami.
Excavations just outside Kochi a few years ago unearthed pottery, coins and various other artefacts that link the region to the Roman era, and suggest that, at last, Muziris has been found.
The biennale founders have adopted the fallen port as a theme for the event, and in previous months, a legion of local and international artists have picked over the city for inspiration for their projects.
Many pieces will involve found art. Alex Mathew, a Kerala-born sculptor, is designing a piece with abandoned anchors, while Vivan Sundaram, India's leading installation artist, is creating a 400 square-foot reconstruction of Muziris using terracotta shards unearthed at the excavation site.
He will both physically throw water on the installation, and incorporate video of flowing water, to represent the destruction of the city.