Expression, experience, enjoyment: How art festivals help democratise creativity in society
In our concluding piece on the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which wrapped up this month, four artists look back at their experiences during the festival.
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 685 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
The fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale wrapped up this month, with a spectacular showcase featuring 80 artists from around the world. Themed In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, the 15 large venues had a range of exhibits on nature, pandemic resilience, and social movements.
“Venues and festivals like the Biennale are very helpful for the enjoyment of art in the community. There are people who came here to experience art for the first time, and it has reached people in a good way,” Kochi-based artist Anju Acharya explains, in a chat with YourStory.
Her artworks feature themes such as the evolution of bodily transformations. “There is art in all human beings,” she says.
“Art is what we see as normal. Many things that we see as normal can actually create problems. If you look at it like that, life changes through art,” she adds.
Anju draws inspiration from her life experiences. “There are many experiences of being a woman: mother, wife, daughter, friend. Many other experiences around me have inspired me a lot,” she describes.
The artistic journey is not without its share of ups and downs. “Every failure is a stepping stone to the best. That is what life teaches us,” Anju explains.
The pandemic was a hard time for artists, with lockdowns shutting down many exhibitions and galleries. “My son was very young during the pandemic, but I was able to pay more attention to his affairs and learn more from him. Later on, my work itself changed its character,” she recalls.
Anju sees success for an artist through impact. “The value of my works is when they reach people and make them talk. Otherwise, they are just images,” she says.
“The moment when I felt very blessed as an artist was when I was selected for the Biennale. It is not easy to reach many people in a short period of time, so I was very happy when more people accepted my work and talked about it,” Anju enthuses.
She also looks up to Art Basel as an important art event. “I really want to participate in Documenta Kassel in Germany,” she adds.
Anju offers tips for aspiring artists. “In life and art, we can't assume that there are shortcuts, and that we can't do art to live. Hard work is the main part of life and art. Experience the crises that come your way and make art nonetheless,” she advises.
Japanese artist Yohei Imamura has fond memories of the Biennale as well, and he describes many of them. “The sound of tuk-tuk horns blaring as they carried people. Calm, free and laid-back people. A unique town with buildings of various designs,” he recalls.
“If you look closely at the walls and pillars of the buildings, you can see hand-painted wood grains, graffiti-like street art everywhere, and people writing the exhibition information on the walls of the Biennale venue by hand,” Yohei picturesquely describes.
“It was an interesting experience full of human touch that you cannot experience in Japan," he affirms.
"I hope that being able to exhibit in a place like Kochi, which is filled with human energy, will be a good opportunity for me to progress my own work in the future,” he adds.
Though the pandemic lead to many postponements and cancellations of exhibitions, the Japanese government helped artists with subsidies. “I was able to take my time and work closely with my artwork,” Yohei says.
He calls for more art appreciation in society via exhibitions around the world that are more closely related to the land, people, and nature. “It is important to keep creating,” Yohei advises aspiring artists.
Festivals such as the Biennale represent a form of art commons “Here we can read and listen, here meaning and implication can be glimpsed, parsed, reinterpreted and so live on in the minds of others – an ever-expanding, rerouting, mutating web,” biennale curator Shubigi Rai explains.
Such expansions of the art world spanned virtual exhibitions as well during the pandemic. “The pandemic was for me a huge slowdown in my invitations to exhibitions, to face-to-face conferences,” recalls Martinique artist Jean-François Boclé, who is now based in Paris.
“Despite everything, I organised exhibitions and conferences, but from a distance, and online. It was a challenge to perform, for example, my Bananaman artwork remotely,” he says.
“Like what happened with most artists, the orders stopped for me too. But somehow, knowing that everyone was in the same boat helped a bit,” recalls artist-designer Annah Chakola.
“The fact that I was in India within a five-mile radius of everyone I cared about helped me not get so anxious,” she adds.
“I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to put together the first official shop for the biennale. The shop quickly morphed into something much more than just a retail front,” she enthuses.
“To see and engage with people from all over the world – and now more than ever seeing the Indian tourist engaging in such an arena, gives me hope for a better India,” Annah affirms.
The general feedback she got was extremely positive. “It was beyond my expectations. People loved the energy swirl we have created in there,” she proudly says.
“The biggest compliment we kept getting was from travellers who came to Kochi for a few days and kept coming back daily just to be part of that energy,” she adds.
“This was not just one instance but many. I have so many thoughts on where to go from here after it closed, but I want to allow myself the chance to decompress and see what unfolds,” Annah signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new avenues to apply your creativity?
(All artwork photographs were taken by Madanmohan Rao on location at the Biennale.)
Edited by Suman Singh