Anita Dube, on curating Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018

At the opening of the fourth edition of Kerala’s flagship art biennale, Clove spoke to its curator and eminent artist Anita Dube

Song Dong, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Song Dong, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Over a hundred artworks from around the world have gone on display in Kochi, in the South Indian state of Kerala, for an event that is making waves on the global art scene. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, whose title for the fourth edition is Possibilities For A Non-Alienated Life, sees works by 94 practitioners from over 30 countries presented across the Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, and Ernakulam areas of the city.

This year, the politically charged contemporary artist Anita Dube was appointed head curator of the Biennale. We spoke to Dube during the opening week - here’s what she told us…

Nathan Coley, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Nathan Coley, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

How will Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 differ from past editions? 
There’s some incredible new works being featured at this year’s edition - responding to the sites, to Kochi, or to new concerns they have chosen to develop in their projects. Other existing works I have chosen are from artists that I feel really engage with the questions and ideas put forth in the curatorial theme possibilities for non alienated life. Whether existing or new, these works are equally exciting because of the fresh and open perspectives they offer in the different settings and the dialogue that’s born from this. 

Your curatorial approach had centred on the possibilities for a non-alienated life. What exactly is an alienated life? And how should we find alternative possibilities?
There is no single defined answer to what constitutes an alienated life. Through seeking to explore alternative possibilities, the idea behind it is to fight and dissipate those constructed boundaries. With the invited artists, through their artwork there are glimpses – and sometimes questions – of other choices of living. Initiating a dialogue and opening up these conversations the projects provoke is a crucial step in creating the grounds for an alternate way of living and relating to one another.

Arun Kumar, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Arun Kumar, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

The central pavilion at the Biennale is a space for the public to share and exchange social and cultural discourse. What was your intention with a collaborative, participatory space like this? 
In the early stages of planning, I wanted to expand upon the existing exhibition model to address wider questions of the audience’s self-determination and active engagement, creating alternatives beyond the performance of being a globalised art-viewer. The Biennale had to open in a way that the exhibition, as a model, couldn’t seem to do. Through collaborative conversations with the team and my friends, the idea of the Pavilion and specifically the “knowledge laboratory” arose.

Is it more important to use the Kochi Biennale as a way to bring international artists to India or as an international platform for Indian artists?
I don’t think that one is more important than the other-- it is equally essential for emerging Indian artists to have a platform, as people in India to be able to see internationally-acclaimed artists in their space. I suppose the most important part is to be able to give this range of artists, divergent in career and background, the same chance and space to showcase their work.

Shilpa Gupta, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Shilpa Gupta, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

You were born in Lucknow and trained in Baroda - what drew you to Kochi? 
Kerala is an incredible place to work and Kochi in particular is alive with creativity. It is also possibly one of the few places in India where Marxism is alive and holding its ground-- the culture of political engagement has deep roots here. I have long been associated with the arts in Kerala, and with the Biennale in Kochi, it seemed like a call back, in a generative and positive way.

The recent floods in Kerala were the worst the state has seen in nearly a century. Tell us more about your Art Rises for Kerala initiative?
Developed by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Art Rises for Kerala (ARK) will launch a major auction of modern and contemporary art in collaboration with Saffron Art on the 18th of January. Through such an event we hope to bring together the art community to the support of communities affected by the floors. There’s been such a large generosity of support from the art world going beyond our expectations, with over 40 artists contributing work for the auction with such figures as Dayanita Singh, Subodh Gupta and Anish Kapoor. All proceeds from the auction will go to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund, where alongside the distribution of basic resources and immediate care, they are helping rebuild the infrastructure across the state

Durgabai and Subhash Vyam, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Durgabai and Subhash Vyam, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

As an artist, your work has been exhibited across India and beyond - Paris, Valencia and London, to name a few. Are you continuing to create as an artist or is your intention to devote yourself fully to curation and direction? 
I am very happy, and honoured, to be curating, but I must say the studio is calling me back! I cannot wait to make work again. I am already thinking about things I want to focus on, and materials I want to work with. Perhaps I will undertake a curatorial project again, but only time will tell.

What are the challenges and/or strengths in making a shift from an artist to a curator? Do the two always go hand in hand? 
They’re completely different experiences. As an artist in the first edition, I was only concerned about my space, and the way my own work was being presented. The experiences of being an artist certainly help in curation-- that relationship to the space, to the materials and aesthetics--  but it is a completely different game. You are overseeing and managing the concept, the works of close to a hundred artists, the capabilities of the space, and the overall exhibition. It is more like conducting a symphony, where being an artist is mastering an individual instrument. Both difficult, and completely different!

Heri Dono, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation

Heri Dono, installation view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, courtesy of Kochi Biennale Foundation


Clove editors