In India, Building Bridges Between Life and Art | Modern Society of USA

In India, Building Bridges Between Life and Art

In India, Building Bridges Between Life and Art

KOCHI, India — Clad in a simple striped shirt and the white mundu of the city’s fishmongers, Bashir stood out from the well-heeled throng at the warehouse galleries and tree-filled courtyards on the first day of India’s biggest contemporary art show, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Keeping to himself, he moved from room to room, stopping to study moody landscapes by the Delhi photographer Chandan Gomes that were paired with imaginary scenes drawn by a girl who died at age 12.

“I don’t understand the inner meaning of the art,” said Bashir, who uses one name and makes a living wrapping and delivering fish. “I just like to see beautiful things.”

Bashir’s willingness to engage with the artwork, no matter how challenging, was a victory for the show’s organizers. The southern state of Kerala, and India as a whole, have very few public venues to see art. So the organizers of the biennale, which runs until March 29, strove to create an event that would appeal to everyone — from untutored day laborers to veteran museum curators.

Many of the works are interactive, and on Mondays, entry to the biennale is free, an attempt to draw in local laborers like Bashir, who would balk at paying the entry fee of 100 rupees, about $1.40. A satellite show supports the next generation of artists, featuring about 130 projects from students across South Asia.

The title of the biennale, “Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life,” reflects Ms. Dube’s effort to build connections between communities, both in Kochi and beyond.

Shanay Jhaveri, assistant curator of South Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, attended the biennale’s opening and said he was struck by how the exhibition addresses the political issues of the day without proselytizing.

“It’s about setting up a conversation,” he said. “I don’t think Anita is trying to provide an answer. She is asking, ‘How do we find a way to support each other?’”

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