Auto-rickshaw drivers in the city of Kochi (Cochin) – especially the Fort Kochi area- seemed to have suddenly turned a very cultivated lot. “Biennale Madam” “50 ruppees one hour” they cajole. Of course coming from Chennai (Madras) the 50 rupees an hour part shocks me more than the Biennale. Here 50 rupees would get me to the end of my street and even that after a lot of bargaining (“Petrol price ma”, “One way ma”, this that and everything else). I’m sorely tempted to take an auto from Aspinwall house to my hotel less than a kilometre away and rejoice in the pleasure of handing out meagre change as auto fare but that really wasn’t an option. I’m sure the fares would have shot up for non-artistic trips that didn’t involve hours of waiting outside exhibition venues and trips to hidden shopping treasures.
So I’d never been to a Biennale before. I have had the good fortune of having visited a number of art galleries and museums around the world but I would hardly consider myself knowledgeable to any extent about visual arts- especially contemporary art forms. When the opportunity came at work to go to the inaugural of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I didn’t say no. The Australian contingent at the Biennale included three Australian artists- Fiona Hall, Lindy Lee and Daniel Boyd exhibiting their work.
But sure enough this was a Biennale with an Indian flavour to it, so everywhere there was palpable chaos- venues still being set up at the last minute, artists’ work not arriving at the right time. no signage, no this, no that and so on. The chaos pervaded tthe inauguration ceremony with the skies deciding to open up (after multiple light warnings) and drench all the guests including yours truly. But the artists themselves felt that despite all the chaos and the confusion there was a great collegiate spirit amongst the entire community which was rarely seen in other Biennales. So kudos to Kochi for that!
I also discovered a neat little hotel right in the middle of Kochi called Spice Fort. It was a cute little boutique hotel- one of those sprawling old mansions with numerous verandahs, balconies and courtyards converted into a tastefully decorated hotel with a swimming pool. The rooms were clean and comfy. The food quite tasty in that healthy organic kinda way (my Kerala vegetarian set lunch was a work of art with yellow cabbage curry, contrasted with bright pink beetroot raita, red carrot kurma and white rice- I didn’t take a photo but you get the idea) and best of all the hotel came with a small swimming pool that I didn’t use. I think if someone had to go to Fort Kochi to do some sightseeing or experience the Biennale then this hotel would be a great choice!
The Biennale runs until mid-March! I highly recommend that you should catch it if you can!
Oh and btw- I definitely did not leave my heart at Kochi but left my lenscap- grrr!