Busy days await Anita Dube, the first female curator of India’s first biennale — Kochi Muziris Biennale — as the event starts from December 12 till March 29. But she is calm and poised. Sitting at Pepper House, Fort Kochi, one of the biennale venues, she says calmly, “It is a hectic moment, but everything is under control. We don’t have to panic. Every day, there is a checklist of what is to be done. Shipments have begun to arrive. Structures have to be made and walls have to be built as per each artist’s specifications. All these works are going on.”
She knows that this massive project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and is confident of revealing her vision to the world. She is not worried about the ‘first female’ tag. “Five or 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready to do it. But now, I have the maturity and experience,” she says. “It is just that you should be ready to do it. I didn’t accept the offer instantly. I took a day to decide,” adds Anita, a contemporary artist, who compares conceptualising biennale with building a structure.
Dube hails from Lucknow, and has completed her MVA (art criticism) from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. She was offered the curatorship soon after she built her own studio. “When you are building a structure, you have no idea about the outcome. Biennale is also similar. It is quite massive and I am responsible for its conceptualisation. When it comes to production, I am not the sole soul who does it. The whole team is involved. Of course, I am a part of it and our paths cross, but my basic job is to conceptualise and oversee the production.”
After one year’s research, Anita has zeroed in on the concept ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’ for the biennale, which, she feels, is the topic of the moment. “These days, we all are connected through a phone. But when a crisis occurs, there will be no one because we are fractured due to various reasons such as breakdown of a deep-rooted family system. Here, I am looking for ways through which we can get past these problems. There is no immediate solution,” she says, adding, “Art can never solve a problem. It can only propose certain thoughts. It is like a mathematician proposing a formula for the future. You never know who will take it up or if society will dismiss it. As a curator, I propose what I believe, is the best at the moment.”
It has been an enriching experience for the curator to travel across the globe, meeting artists. “I am grateful to the Biennale Foundation for letting me meet these wonderful talents at their studios, spend time with them and understand their work. That has been the exciting part. Conversations are the seeds from which ideas grow. Some unexpected meetings have helped me expand my idea about the biennale,” Anita says.
One such experience has been learning about the Punk Rock Group. “I came to know about them while visiting Malaysia. It is a group of nine young tribal people — six men and three women — who travel around interacting with their community. They also make art, and solve problems of the community through intervention, discussion, music and workshops. I found it very interesting. We don’t have many such groups here except Oorali, the music band that travels around in a bus communicating with people. We have invited Punk Rock here. They will showcase their existing works, and will also create a new work here,” says Anita who believes the audience will be able to sense the female sensibility in the arrangement, choice of artists and the whole rhythm of the biennale. “It is hard to explain that. One should experience it by visiting the biennale,” she laughs. Interestingly, she has picked up artists from the south of the equator. The 2018 biennale will see talents from South East Asia, Africa and Latin America. Filtering names has been a challenging task, she says. “You have to make hard choices sometimes,” she smiles. “A curator chooses an artist not counting her/his popularity, but because that person’s thoughts synchronise with the curator’s,” she says.
“In this biennale, you will see the way I understand art, the world, and what I want to tell people. There will be more female artists than male ones, which, I think, has not happened even on the international platform. Also, there will be some dynamic women like Guerilla Girls, who will showcase their works here,” she adds.
Women of all age groups will participate in the biennale. Quiz her on how she is planning to make the venue female-friendly in the wake of the recent developments, and she says, “We are designing a booth where one can immediately report any problem.” Anita who was a member of the short-lived yet influential Radical Painters and Sculptors Association that created a new wave in Indian art brings a wealth of experience with her. She has had showings across the world — New Delhi, Berlin, Mumbai, Paris etc.
The biennale has two parts — an exhibition and a public pavilion in Cabral Yard where people can come and share their ideas. “A knowledge lab where people can read out passages or write poems. We are also striving hard to make venues wheelchair-friendly,” says Anita, who had to confront difficult times such as the recent floods that devastated Kerala. They had their moments of doubt, she says. “We were wondering whether we should postpone the event. Then we reached a consensus that biennale will lift up people’s spirits. The government also supported the foundation,” says the artist who lives in Greater Noida. The materials used for building the pavillion will later be repurposed to build homes for the flood-affected. “Recycling is a good thing. If we don’t do that, we will be harming our planet,” she feels.
As the curtains of the biennale are about to rise, Anita is hopeful. She is curious to know what people will absorb and how long it will linger in them. Of course, she wants to leave deep impressions!...