Friday, March 31, 2017

A Feast Of Art

As the Kochi Muziris Biennale came to an end, on March 29, visitors, stakeholders, and participants give their impressions

Photos: Pavneet Pal Singh; Rahul Nair and Meenakshi Soman, Isi and Zehavit Orlev and Jineesh, NA, the owner of the Al-Hala restaurant

By Shevlin Sebastian


Architect Pavneet Pal Singh, 25, was at a loose end in Chandigarh. That was when a friend said that there were openings as volunteer/guides at the Kochi Muziris Biennale. He applied and was selected. Three months later, he has a joyous smile on his face. “I am enjoying my stint,” he says.

His job is to take people on guided tours. Every day, there are two public tours, lasting 90 minutes, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The crowd is a mixed bunch of foreigners and Indians. Apart from that, he gets assigned to important guests like diplomats, politicians, film and cultural celebrities. 

Without realising it, there have been gains for Pavneet. “My public-speaking skills has 
improved a lot, and I have learnt to deal with all types of people,” he says. But, mostly, 
the visitors have reacted gratefully. “That is because contemporary art can be difficult to 
understand so they need help,” says Pavneet. 
Not surprisingly, Pavneet is keen to take part in the next edition but, as he says, Preferably,
in some other role.” Finally, when asked about the art work which created the most
impact on people, Pavneet says, “Raul Zurita's 'Sea of Pain'.” At that installation, you
walk across a foot-high sheet of water, inside a room at Aspinwall House. This is a poetic
metaphor about illegal migrants trying to cross over to Europe from Africa on rickety boats
through the Mediterranean Sea and losing their lives in the process.
Young and Creative 

Walking swiftly through the grounds of Aspinwall House are Rahul Nair and Meenakshi 
Soman, independent writers and documentary film-makers. For the Surat-based Rahul, this is 
his second visit. “I had come earlier in December,” he says. “But when I heard that the 
Biennale is ending on March 29, I decided to come again because I had not seen all the works. 
And it has been great so far.” 

So excited was Rahul that, after his first visit, he informed his friends, While a few took flights,
several took the 32-hour train journey from Surat to come to the Biennale over the past three months.
For the Kochi-based Meenakshi, she has come often. “The best time is in the morning, just
when it opens,” she says. “There are hardly any visitors and I enjoy walking around. Since the
works are so amazing, it has been a creative stimulant for me.”
Like, in the case of Rahul, Meenakshi's many friends from places like Pune and Mumbai
made he journey to see the Biennale. “They all liked it,” she says. “But they all agreed that
one day is not enough. You need to spend at least two to three days to see all the works.”
From Israel with love

Isi and Zehavit Orlev, pensioners from Tel Aviv, Israel, were relaxing on the Marari beach 
at Allapuzha when they met Orna Lutski, a well-known Israeli artist. “When she heard that we were going to stay at Fort Kochi for a couple of days, she urged us not to miss the Biennale,” says Orna. “That is why we are here.”

Both of them enjoyed the Orijit Sen 'Going Playces' interactive art exhibition. “I saw a few drawings that reminded me of the paintings of [Russian-French artist] Marc Chagall,” says Isi. “We have liked what we have seen. It is good that a major festival is taking place in Fort Kochi, although both of us are finding it difficult to adjust to the heat and the humidity.”

Feeding the Crowds

It is evening. And Jineesh, NA, the owner of the Al-Hala restaurant, just near Aspinwal House is sitting on the steps and having a chat with his friends. Thanks to the location, he has done very good business because of the Biennale. “Many visitors have come to my shop,” he says. “The customers included both North Indians and foreigners.”

The favourite order was biriyani: chicken, prawn, fish and chicken. People also ordered Chinese and fish dishes. “Our business grew by 35 per cent because of the Biennale,” he says. “In fact, everybody has gained, like the hotels, homestays, small shops and autorickshaw drivers. It has been good for business. So I will feel a bit sad that the event ended on March 29.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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