Kochi Biennale Art Festival

Why do we need Art?

Having had very artsy past few weeks, this thought came niggling to me, “why do we need art?” My response to it is a commoner’s and it is exactly for this reason that it shouldn’t be dismissed. Art is a pervasive, creative and emotional discipline which shouldn’t be the prerogative of few connoisseurs, collectors or critics. My succinct answer to this need is because we are humans. From the majestic lions, intelligent elephants, elegant antelopes, loyal dogs, hypnotic snakes to sentient plants, no other life form in this massive creation or evolution needs art but us.

Ironically, it is to understand, realize, and celebrate this confounding spectrum of life that humans evolved art. Art is the expression of our desire to make sense of this world. And attending two most exhilarating art experiences, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2022-23 curated by @shubigi and Banyan Tree’s Ruhaniyat, in quick succession made it amply clear to me. Admittedly and evidently, our species is gifted with the highest level of consciousness on this planet. And this brings a natural curiosity and an inherent yearning to know and express more.

Artists of any genre and form, are usually more sensitive and observant of their surroundings. Drawing their inspiration and ideas from the same to a large extent. So, while I was at the Kochi Muziris Biennale – an international art festival, I was flabbergasted by the scale and genius of it. Of course, some of it was beyond my grasp, so I couldn’t appreciate it the same way. However, there were some which absolutely blew me away. The concept, thought, execution, medium, and installation of these exhibits is at a superlative level of aesthetics and creativity. But most essentially, I was in awe of the artists’ mind and the finesse of their skills.

While you stand and soak in the art, it’s profoundly compelling and evocative. Compelling you to delve and join the artist in his perspective yet evoking a surge of your own emotions. A fairly recurring theme that I identified across the exhibits in different mediums was that of empathy, of feeling others. Be it the photography journal of labour exploitation in Bangladesh or the liberation of Nepali women. Or the desolation in Chile, Balochistan and parts of India that are captured on reels, or the concrete indifference of Mumbai. The stark atrophy of land and nature, the still prevalent racism, social and political hierarchy or a satire on human resistance. @Shahidul Alam, @Prasanta Sahu, @Pranay Dutta, @Richard Bell, @Amar Kanwar and many others portray the uncomfortable dextrously.

Even Shashwat Bulusu, when orchestrated a scintillating musical evening @Cabral Yard through his metaphorical story-telling, prodded at the scratchy questions of human life. Engaging you to feel real in a world which has never been more illusionary put together in bits and bytes.

What it tells me is that these creative geniuses feel and identify the ignominy and discord of our lives and it pinches their spirit.  Their work expresses both their frustration and compassion, disquiet and optimism. But of course, it’s not just the dark and unjust that an artist immerses himself into. Artists like Anju Acharya, Ketki Sarpotdar, Yohei Imamura, Smitha GS celebrate the ordinary, charming, colourful, idiosyncratic life bringing it alive in splendour and beauty. Art in all its glory is sometimes thought provoking, sometimes enchanting and delighting, sometimes haunting and lamenting.

It does something to you even when you do not comprehend the artists’ context. It titillates your cerebrum nerves. It plays on your imagination. It digs slightly deeper in your consciousness layer.

This is exactly what the music concert of Ruhaniyat did. As the air carried ions of soulful music in its breezy arms, the listeners were steeped in a cloak of divinity. It seemed as if the moon, birds, trees, people all came together that evening to hide and seek in an aura of grace. The message of that surreal love, brotherhood and detachment revs up the little dwindling flame inside, like a gush of air.

The team at @Banyan Tree as always curated an enigmatic and exhilarating line up of exceptional artists and art. Parvathy Baul literally entranced the audience with her transcendental performance. One can only imagine the absolute inward focus she has as she weaves a meditative vibe with her solo singing and music. While, you flow along with Prahalad Singhji Tipaniya’s spellbinding rhythm and voice, not wanting to end the Kabir reverie. Every lyric of those couplets beckons you to a reality check of this incessant preoccupation with the superfluous self. While the Chisti brothers, annihilate all boundaries between Kashi and Kaaba to merge with that formless divine source.

That love which is so removed from the worldly trappings, which doesn’t know how to differentiate between others and I, is what you aspire for by the end of it.

A species that lives in a constant chaotic flux of perceptions, emotions and reactions needs a vent and art gives him that space. A self-expression be it through music, dance, theatre, writing, designing, sculpting, painting or any other. And at this point in history, it seems most relevant and indispensable to me.

After all the centuries of mindboggling material and scientific progress, today we are quite jaded as a population. Most unsure of our outward chases and yet not sure of reaching our inner core. We are sadly stuck somewhere in the middle. When I see this kind of elevated art, it feels like a peephole prompting me to open the door wider beyond myself. To love more generously. To accept more willingly. To celebrate more liberally.

Also, at the cusp of a huge AI revolution as heralds ChatGPT, I think art will be a salve to my kind of souls. For I am okay to get a tooth extracted, tax returns filed, cataract removed, even get a unique thesis written by robotic intelligence. But by no means am I ready to attend a dance recital or painting exhibition or music concert by a bunch of jamboree robots pre-fed on algorithms. Art, I hope shall be the prerogative and pleasure of our thinking species.

Radhika Mimani

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