June 27th, 2013
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Malayalees are indifferent to innovative ideas

Every human being should be responsible for better thinking and better life. There should be a kind of generosity, that should come from the wealthy, intellectual or all kinds of life we have and for sure that will help their place and country. I like to live a borderless life, I don’t like passports.
Bose KrishanamachariIndia’s first Biennale was held in Kochi between 12 December 2012(12/12/12) and 18 March 2013. It was admired by many whereas hated by a few. Renowned art critics and reviewers said it was the first of its kind and all other Biennales in the world have many lessons to learn from here. Local media initiated a controversy on the misappropriation of government funds and the lack of space for local artists. Here, the curator of the Biennale and Mumbai based painter Bose Krishnamachari speaks out his reflections on art, politics, spirituality and the controversies around the event. Detailed interview with Bose by Chinnu Paul, talks about Kochi-Muziris Biennale, public support, media coverage, critics from various circle and his future project and plans.

Chinnu PaulKochi-Muziris Biennale has been a grand success in terms of the overall public support, media coverage and the critical acclaim from enlightened circles. What’s your level of satisfaction? Have you received what you had intended?

Definitely it was a successful project. We started from zero. There was no infrastructure or previous models or precedents. It was very organic and innovative. We just put the sapling and it has grown like a huge tree. So, internationally it has been very particularly acclaimed by artists and reviewers alike, in a way that something should be learnt from Kochi-Muziris Biennale. That kind of arguments and statements were given by critics and curators from different parts of the world.

As an artist and curator, I don’t think I should be satisfied with whatever I am working on. It’s one of my basic ideas that I have learnt through my experiences. You should have the enthusiasm, inclination, passion and commitment to do projects. To answer your question about satisfaction, if your work satisfies you, then there is no chance to grow up. You should always be more open to new ideas and experiments.

What is your perception about using art as a tool to respond to the contemporary social issues?

It was always there. Most of the times, it’s like an individual’s practice or philosophy, which develops through practices. For me, art making is for better thinking and seeing. It’s a way of living that life absorbs. It’s not about my own life and not like an artistic way of looking at it. We are making art for the people. Look at the history of artists: it was mostly studio-oriented painting and everybody used to make it for themselves. But, now you can do art in any place, anything can be changed into art. So, there is no medium restriction or rules which will define, how the art should be.

Social commitment is a very important thing. Look at the political and economic diplomacy in the international scenario. Nowadays, they are changing policy making and makes better diplomatic world and circumstances by using art. For example, take any European country or Australia or China; everybody is trying to implement exchange programmes through cultural events and spending more money for that, even more than for political diplomacy. Altogether, art can cure issues.

So, art works can be used to uphold social justice in an increasingly unjust world. Can we   look forward for the better treatment of art that stands for social justice?

Every human being should be responsible for better thinking and better life. There should be a kind of generosity, that should come from the wealthy, intellectual or all kinds of life we have and for sure that will help their place and country. I like to live a borderless life, I don’t like passports. But unfortunately, you have to have passports, right?

In the classic traditions of art, there has always been this element of catharsis, or a kind of purification of the soul through art. In the Biennale, certain installations were highly cathartic and spiritual. What’s your comment on the spirituality of art?

Your spirituality is different from my spirituality. It varies from person to person.  I don’t want to be somebody who gives up all his desires, wealth and family. I am not that kind of a person. I do believe in the responsibility of an artist. If you are enlightened like Buddha, you are enlightened forever, and then there is no point of living. I think only work can change this world, so I keep on working. When someone’s spirituality is related to politics, they always think about a better world. In critical reading, for example Amar Kanwar’s works, spirituality is denouncing the existing mafia.

He identified that almost all the green fields and seeds are vanishing from Orissa, and did his research for the last ten years to produce the art work on the same. That commitment is, in a way, spiritual. Whatever you experience through your practice, that is spiritual. Our classical ways of learning music, dance or painting, which have all kinds of rules and definitions, may be different. There are no rules applicable for a contemporary artist in creative time and moments. Craftsmanship is good because if you have an idea, it can produce the way. What is important is awareness of our time and why and for whom we are making the art.

What’s your subjective notion on the spirituality of art, particularly in a much commercialized art environment?

Commerce always exists in this world, whether it is art or whatever. You are living in a consumerist state. I was just looking at a 10 year old kid who is driving a Ferrari in Kerala. You see, how extreme the consumer world functions here and look at the expenditure nature of individuals in Kerala. It doesn’t make any sense to me; they are not having any kind of aesthetics about life. They have wealth but don’t enlighten themselves with aesthetics. Aesthetics cannot be taught in a way; you develop it, learn it by your experiences. Maybe I have only few words in my life, responsibility or commitment; that makes the entire thing.

We are living in age of visuals. But, unfortunately the visual literacy or art literacy is least cared about by the people and social institutions. What do you think of the need of art education?

Everything should be looked at through the eye of an artist. A politician is also supposed to understand art. You take Kerala as a kind of specimen. Why people are coming to Kerala? It’s only because of the nature. But it was marketised as something should be marketised. I have lot of issues about Kerala. When I walk out of my home, flux and cables are all around. I don’t see any kind of aesthetic betterment of all those. How can you delete these rubbishes? Suppose you are traveling from Trivandrum to Kasaragod, you take a wealthy company’s name in Kerala: how much area of hoardings or flux and money they are spending for the brand image building? This is seen mainly in Kerala and Chennai.

Money spending is not the thing I am talking about. I was talking about the aesthetics of presenting visuals. I think they should be banned all over Kerala. Because, the other media and television. I think it’s enough. Here, everybody likes to show themselves. The corporate and individuals see that Malayalees like to see their portraits are declaring their wealth and magnitude. It’s very dangerous; there is a kind of mafia behind this also. Some rules should be adopted by the municipalities, corporations and villages.

The advertising world always pushes something. In the earlier days, we used to see very huge hand paintings, which were more beautiful. Malayalees never think about the smaller scale or that particular size of an advertisement. In the advertising world, they have other works and can get into audio, visuals, cables etc more than these hoardings. Why don’t we have any foresight to hide these all? This place is going to lose its character, the main problem is we are not protecting our ecology and are least aware of it. Even if we are aware of it, we don’t take any kind of responsibilities. It is not about nostalgia. I don’t know whether Kochi is declared a heritage city; people always speak about heritage. We should remove this builder’s mafia. When I go to my village, I feel terrible, fields are being used illegally and flats are coming against all regulations. These builders only think about their wealth, not about tomorrow, even not about their own children.

In the context of globalization, do you think corporate sponsorships and art fellowships do harm to the independence of a creative artist? Are they always a welcome option?

In the earlier days, religious institutions like church and temples the ruling Maharajas used to patronize art and artists. If you have look at temples, you can see murals, carvings, and amazing architecture. In the case of artists like Michelangelo or Davinci, most of the times, they were controlled by the church or somebody like that. Now, it is the corporate. Art is the last field for the policy makers. We don’t have any kind of policies or projects to support artists or art students. There is no support system. But, recent studies reveal that internationally art brings a lot of wealth to cities and countries. We should go with qualities and with expertise through which can imply aesthetics too.

You can take freedom to make the way you like to be; for example, you have lot of spaces or museums but there is nothing inside the museums or it’s not much developed, does not have any kind of professional qualities of saturation buildings. If we don’t have talents or knowledge about something, we should outsource the knowledge, talented people, expertise, technicians etc. Art does not have anything to do with your ‘Lalita Kala’. What is Lalita Kala? Art is actually complex. It is always about time. We are not living in a kind of classical time but living in a complex world in which philosophy also changes with time. Art is globalised, not just regional.

What about the controversy of the installation of the flags of banned organizations?

We know how much freedom we have in our country. We discussed it with the artist and he agreed, went ahead with his own freedom. We looked for a person who knows about the Indian law. It’s a great idea that is why we invited them. He proved that it doesn’t take place here, though we always call India the largest democracy, but there is no democracy at all. He was successful in his own way. But for us, we are very much aware of the political issues and the sensitive issues around religion. For us, as artists, we never go against the national policies that is protecting our country.

As a token of protest, your organizing team painted those flags in black, which reminded of the acts by certain newspaper editors who published blank editorials in black ink.

No, it’s not a protest. We discussed it with the artist, maintained communication with him through mails and couldn’t take away his art so we erased those images. I am really fed up with this state in a way. Religion is the most dangerous thing developing in Kerala.

There was a criticism that the local artists did not get adequate space to display their talents in the Biennale. How did you deal with this controversy? Especially your colleagues like Murali, Bhagyanathan etc.

How can they say that they haven’t got opportunity? I live in Mumbai and work with thousands of artists and it’s not at all necessary to include them all in my work or how can I? You look at the context that you are inviting an artist. In every serious project, organizational part is always with curators. It depends on the subject and theme. You look at Venice Biennale or take Sao Paulo Biennale. No other biennales gave such opportunities to the local artists through an organization. Artists must understand that it’s a big project. Altogether 89 artists participated in it, and 22 of them were from Kerala. They could use it as an opportunity to see what kinds of art being practiced and experimented around the world. In India, we never had an opportunity like this.

Art doesn’t need any invitation. I do remember the ministers from Mauritius and Orissa who visited Biennale without any invitation. I don’t need any invitation to see a film or a theatre or an art show. It’s the art that invites you. It’s your passion. Did you get any invitation from any director to watch his film? You go and see because you like films. A Malayalee always thinks that he knows everything. Once you say, ’I don’t know’, it adds beauty to you, it makes sense often. Malayalees are unfortunately not like that.

There was another controversy on the government fund misappropriation by the Biennale team and subsequently the State government withdrew the support. Do you think that the support given by government is beyond the expectation?

Is there any need of talking about it? The people working with this know the real problems. You should go and ask local people about the pre- and post- Biennale status in small restaurants, places, auto-rikshas out here. Ask their opinion about the Biennale. Compare this with any other Biennale, this one started with a small budget. You should check where this money is coming from and who is funding. We received funds from corporates, institutions and embassies whoever likes to promote their artists. Still, they keep sending and are ready to give support for next Biennale, too. Earlier the people who ignored Biennale thought that it was an Italian project; you should check what they have done, before the Biennale, during the Biennale and after the Biennale. What I can say is, if they don’t know, let them shut up. It’s not a Kerala or Kochin project; it’s not my project, but an international, a kind of organizational project.

What about the future projects and plans?

It’s going on. Almost 24 hours our office is working. We have people who are committed and change-oriented. Some of them resigned their corporate jobs and joined this organization; because the young generation believes in us and we need them. Even though we are in a debt of seven crore, most of them are ready to work without salary. My colleague sold his own property to save this project and I have put my money too. To be frank, I lost my money.

Why Keralites are not interested in any innovative project? I guess, they have small kind of jealousy.  We never want to prove them that we are trying to get a new thing better than them. Media also behaved foolishly in the beginning but later helped a lot. Still some people think that Biennale is going somewhere else. Someone tried to defame us also. But we proved that it was one of the best art projects ever happened in India. We have people who support and promote us realizing that this is a pioneering project.


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