Why the Biennale is
critical for our children ?
  Exhibit: Future Perfect, 21st Century \ 2006 by Swiss artist Marie Velardie at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

In the beginning, I heard murmurs of a new creative movement down South at Kochi in Kerala. My daughter, Sheetal, a next-gen creative whiz kid who runs a broadcast design unit in Mumbai spoke endlessly about a creative hotbed of contemporary art movement in Kochi called the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2015. I decided to visit and understand what this Biennale was all about.


My visit was truly both a meditational and exciting experience!

  Exhibit: Alternate Shapes for the Earth \ 2014 by Indian artist Nataraj Sharma at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

There were several exhibits of contemporary art. Each art displayed a sheer audacity of thought-process wherein the wildest imaginations were translated into tangible art forms. I strongly felt it would be so excitingly educational for our children! Just one viewing would evoke an exploration of their inherent talent! And most of all what a learning experience for even our educators!


The variety of styles would influence even the so called non-artist to believe that everyone has an artistic trait in oneself that can be developed if focused time is spent with dedicated mentors as well as sustained practice.

  Exhibit: Nummer acht: Everything is going to be alright \ 2007 by Dutch artist and film-maker Guido van der Werve at the 2014, KMB  

I photographed these artists' world in which they impacted me. I visited several installations repeatedly to understand, interpret and picturise the essence of the art before photographed them. 


I believe that the greatest value of any creative venture is the influence it seeks to create, especially among the youth of India. Many months after my visit, I realized that I was impacted by the event.


I kept saying to myself, of what use is an exposition of this grand a scale and stature if it cannot influence future generations of young artists and everyone interested in art.

  Exhibit: Chronicles of the Shores Foretold \ 2014 by Indian artist Gigi Scaria at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

So for me, it was not just what youngsters would view and experience, but about the immeasurable changes that would happen when these works of art speak to them in unique ways that many of their mentors would have missed. Just imagine our crowded classrooms with a teacher-student ratio a dismal 1:40! At the Biennale it is a 1:1 contact of unforgettable and emotional experiences.


There is also the Student's Biennale, which is conducted in collaboration with the Foundation for International Arts and Education (FIAE) and the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). 15 curators selected from across the country had engaged with students from Government-run art colleges across India.


  Exhibit : Balancing Act \ 2014 by Indian artist Gulammohammed Sheikh at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

This location specific distribution of art helped the viewer to appreciate the art completely distanced from any distractions. The influence on young minds from such a collection as the Biennale, spread with much strategic thought across Kochi's unique environment with the Arabian Sea, the historical colonial buildings and the world famous backwaters is brilliant!


And then there is the Children's Biennale at the same place! What a masterstroke by the organizers! It features not just the exhibitions of works of art by children, but also workshops specially designed for them. The aim is to engage with young learners who are the embodiment of innate creativity and initiate them early into art appreciation and art- making. Many have never been to an art class or understood that there are many ways to view a subject and express it with their heart and minds.


  Exhibit: Pepper House Residency Exhibition at Mandalay Hall in Jew Town, Fort Kochi at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

For decades, parents stubbornly pushed for studies that focused primarily on the BIG three vocations of engineering, law and medicine. However, many students eventually realized that these choices were not of their true calling and they hated their jobs or faced a lifetime of depression and unhappiness.


Today, several new vocations serving the 21st century needs are emerging and new learning’s aligned to these needs are being developed. Great thinkers like Dr Howard Gardner of Harvard University, Sir Ken Robinson, John Seely and Diana Rhoten are some of the torchbearers of this new movement.


  Exhibit: Nautilus \ 2010 by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

Presently, most complex problems can no longer be solved with a mono-disciplinary approach. It’s no wonder that programs like Liberal Arts and Sciences, which is based on the combination of interdisciplinarity, with scientific rigor and creative thinking has become an indispensible tool.


Exposing our children to such an exposition allows them to understand how different artists conceptualize and execute their unique ideas. They get to talk to them and comprehend how many different challenges the artists face as they endeavor to concretize their dramatic dreams into a tangible aesthetic form. Understanding how the artist solves issues from a holistic, multidisciplinary approach every time they hit a roadblock is a great learning experience.


  Exhibit: Untitled \ 2014 by Indian artist Unnikrishnan C at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

As predicted by statistics, the changing economic movement would lean towards Brazil, Russia, India and China. Hence, students and educators alike would need to realize that present day methods of teaching cannot help our children face the challenges of the unknown future.


The Biennale need not be an exposition for only the art oriented but also for every child and the 'child' in men or women. It is the change of the hour that we desperately need. The responsibility now shifts to the Central Government to understand how significant movements such as the Biennale is a necessity to prepare our children for the 21st century.


  Exhibit: We Are All Astronauts \ 2013 by Swiss artist Julian Charriere at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

There are Biennales across the world but we need to keep in mind that in India, we have the world’s largest student body of 315+-million (census 2011). In fact in the private sector alone, we have over 100 million students enrolled, which is considerable when compared to US (5.1 mn) and UK (5 mn).


Such events would unearth the little souls' latent abilities and guide them to optimize their 'imagining trait' so that our youngsters can become successful innovators. The resultant 'value-generators' would be change-makers for India's 21st Century transition.


  Exhibit : Gandhi and Gama \ 2014 by Gulammohammed Sheikh & team of associate artists at the 2014, KMB  

The offline and online promos, as well as the interviews by the stakeholders appear to place an emphasis on the value for Kochi and Kerala. Perhaps in the early stages, the objective of the messaging was to get due support from the state Government. However the sustainability of the project in revenue terms – in terms of direct benefit (read 'cash') rather than indirect (read 'branding, tourism',etc.) - may weigh heavily on the government during the decision making stages.


The value of the Biennale should be communicated from a national "India" perspective, and the relevant ministries at the centre - Tourism, Education and Cultural among others - should in some way be not only the 'supporters' but the 'drivers' of this unique program.


Once this is done, the resultant equity for Biennale would attract the right sponsorships, high - value artists and the relevant institutions.


The question we need to ask is how schools can co-design education with programs like the Biennale so that the methodologies that artists employ to execute their concepts are easily understood. Exercises that move the learning forward with workshops or webinars and videos would be the initial steps to developing tomorrow's mavens.


  Exhibit: Pepper House Residency Exhibition at Mandalay Hall in Jew Town, Fort Kochi at the 2014, Kochi-Muziris Biennale  

Change, of course won't happen overnight. Change is not in the scope of one individual. Several people and institutions have to get involved. This change needs to be vigorously embraced; fiercely nurtured and developed with dedication, to help our children tackle the fast changing 21st century challenges.


The Biennale plays a big role here especially on the aspect of freethinking and holistic creativity. The significance of the Biennale serving not just the awareness of art and its development but also the grand purpose of taking forward India's huge percentage of young minds, cannot thus be over-emphasized.

  By Sudhir Ramchandran  
  2ND NOV 2015  
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