The Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations had a discussion with Artist and Curator Bose Krishnamachary of Kochi Biennale Foundation on his latest show ‘LokameTharavaadu’. The show held in Alleppey showcases the works of 267 artists from Kerala. In the Interview, Krishnamachary speaks about the diversity among the art exhibited, the challenges he faced to curate the exhibition during the pandemic, and his future endeavours.
Indian Ruminations: Could you please share with our readers what Lokame Tharavaadu is all about? What does it represent and how did you curate the show?
Bose Krishnamachary: ‘Lokame Tharavaadu’ means the world is one family. It was conceptualised during the time of the pandemic. In the year 2020, the Kochi Biennale Foundation couldn’t do the biennial due to the pandemic. The best thing that could have been done at that time was ‘thinking local’. How can we instil some confidence in the local community? In 2020, I was planning to do it in Kochi. At the same time, Dr Thomas Isaac was thinking about an artist’s exhibition here in Alleppey. The Muziris heritage project’s chief architect Benny Kuriakose also suggested checking out the spaces here. Thus, when I came to see this place in October, it was totally dilapidated. I went across so many places here and I found immense potential. I then suggested doing a show here and was given an offer by the state government. Dr Thomas Isaac told me, Rupees two crore will be allocated to the project. So I became a little ambitious to look at it.
I had done a show in 2005 called Double-Enders. A show by Kerala Artists in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kochi. It was then, people realised, there are so many talented Malayali artists. Artists like Jithesh Kallat, Gigi Scaria and many others. Most people were unaware that I’m a Malayali. So an opportunity was given and many people bought their work. I felt it is important to give an opportunity to the artists’ community, especially artists coming from Kerala. Many of them don’t even have a gallery space. They don’t have representations in the gallery. So, I travelled from Kannur to Trivandrum and found 267 artists. I think the diversity coming out from Kerala is amazing, than any other state in India. I live in Bombay, and I’ve been working in so many places in India; but with this diversity, I felt like bringing it together as the name ‘the world is one family’. Also, India when I look at it presently, there is a kind of insecurity; the secular aspects of India are being questioned. So, why not the diversity coming through art, exhibited in six lakh square feet of space inside and outside of the exhibition area?.
This site EPC was conceptualized for cafeteria performances, poetry reading and music jamming sessions. Unfortunately, we could do only the exhibition part of it. The performances had to cut down as the total budget was four-and-a-half Crore for this project. We started this show on April 18, but unfortunately, we had to close it down after the 12th day. We later reopened it on August 13th. Many collectors wanted to come from other parts of the world. They said it would be good to have the show in December or January, as they would be able to come. Some art collectors who are coming from Delhi and other parts of India have collected already some works. We could sell more than three Crore worth of artwork from this exhibition. And that is the confidence given to the artists’ community. The local public also gets an opportunity to experience what is happening in contemporary practices.
So how did the pandemic play a role in the creation of this event? What were the limitations?
The limitation is always the fun. When you have ideas, execution is not a problem. You have to physically keep social distancing and follow such protocols. We took those decisions and discipline to create it. We only had a problem with the financial implications of it. As everything is mostly funded by me, I hope I will get back the money from the State.
Actually, the pandemic was helpful me; as a curator, I was travelling a lot. So there was no kind of mass exodus or anything like that. It was researched in villages, I’ve been to, Wayanad, going into all the kinds of interior spaces, looking at artist’s studios. That was a great part of this research. And some of them didn’t have spaces to paint. Sometimes the kitchen table becomes their painting space, for some artists it is their bedroom, as there isn’t much space to keep the arts. So when I visited, they opened up everything like a Pandora’s Box. But it is great to experience this. Like, there are unknown names, unknown people, younger generation and all kinds of school.
Could you tell us why you chose Alappuzha as the venue? Also what is something unique about Loakame Tharavaadu that makes it stand apart from the rest?
I believe this is the largest show happening in the world during the period of this pandemic. I think Lokame Tharavadu gave confidence to the public. This area, Alleppey, is a silent space, there are so many heritage spaces and factory spaces that are empty. It can be converted into museums.These heritage places are almost like acupuncture, the art can play as a kind of acupuncture. It can revive certain areas. This space EPC belongs to private people, and there are two other places which I didn’t have [initially]. I wanted more spaces and Mrs Betty Karan supported me to get these two spaces which make up to 35,000 square feet of exhibition area. I haven’t thought it like I am doing it because of the Pandemic, but as the best thing that can be done when physically nothing is happening. Physical presence is important when it comes to visual art.
Dr. Thomas Isaac had the idea of converting these spaces into Museums. Thus, there can be 21 museums here, and he’s very much committed to it. The state and the Tourism department are also interested in the project. Dr. Venu is the Tourism Secretary, when he was there, we started the biennial. He is a visionary who believes in the best thing that can be offered by this exhibition. And we’ve been doing online as well like others. Our students’ Biennale is one of the verticals of the Biennale that is happening online, also another vertical called ‘ABC art by Children’. We have organized, online programs, talks and similar programmes. But it is important to have physical experiences of art. So slowly, we are getting a lot of people to come and see the show now. I’ve seen doctors coming from Malabar, architecture students coming from all around India. Every week, I have guests coming from all around India. So this has given a new platform for a new site in India for culture building. Also, I think when the Biennale happens in Kochi, it could be extended to Alleppey as well. May be every five years, they should think about Malayali shows like this; so that you could find some newer curators, newer people, newer exhibits and new vision.
Also, there are a lot of women artists who have come here and that is not so common in events like these in India?
Yeah. I was not interested in the gender aspect of it. I was looking at the talent and I was looking at the consistent practice done by artists. There were a lot of women artists, who have never exhibited their works in their life. Also bringing them together was an interesting aspect. The press asked me the number of women artists participating in the exhibition. I said to them there will be at least 50-56 artists. Later, when I checked to know how many woman artists are there and that number was 63. One of the magazines came up with the women artists’ story. So again, when I numbered it and looked at it, there are 65 Women artists. But for me, that is not an important aspect. Of course giving them an opportunity is an important aspect like any other practice. For example, for the third gender, if they have done good work, I would have picked it up. I wouldn’t have looked at the work as something which a third gender artist has done.
Did you mean Transgender?
What will be the next projects that you plan to curate and do you intend to curate any further shows in Alleppey?
There can be. In Alleppey, they wanted to build museums, so I will provide whatever support that they are expecting from me. The Biennale Foundation goes on working for the Kochi Biennale, which will happen in 2022.
The interview is a condensed and edited version of the original conversation.
Cover photograph by Reneesh P.R, Creative Director, Indian Ruminations