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How covid-19 has darkened India’s cultural season

With both the Kochi Biennale and India Art Fair postponed, India’s art calendar has got a new edit

A wall at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012
A wall at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012

If winter is waiting in the wings, can India’s art and culture season be far behind? As with so much in 2020, the answer to this question is a despondent yes. If 2020 is the year of the pandemic, it is also the year of postponements, as two recent announcements drove home.

Earlier this week, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) postponed its forthcoming edition, scheduled for December, to 2021. Days ago, the organisers of the India Art Fair (IAF) also decided to move its next edition to 2022. The Jaipur Literature Festival is yet to firm up plans for 2021, though its online programming continues.

Artist Bose Krishnamachari, founder member and president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, says the decision was taken after consultation with various stakeholders. Kerala, the site of the biennale, is one of two states that has contributed the highest number of new cases since the onset of the ongoing festival season. A Mint report pointed out the state added 4,287 new cases in 24 hours this week. As an event, a biennale is tied to the site it is organised in and the life of the community around it. Even with the best digital support, it doesn’t have the desired effect when organised remotely, like other art events. But the students’ biennale, which involves mentorship by established artists, will be held online in February 2021.

Artist Gigi Scaria's installation in 2014
Artist Gigi Scaria's installation in 2014

In Kolkata, the Experimenter gallery has been forced to re-imagine its annual curators’ hub as a digital-only event. Scheduled to start on 19 November, the usual three-day format has been expanded to four this time. “The hub is structurally based on intimacy, dependent as much on the speakers as their interaction with the participants,” says Prateek Raja, co-founder of the gallery. “This year, we have requested that the participants make themselves fully available for three hours each day.”

It remains to be seen if the format works well enough to hold the focus of the 500-odd people who have signed up so far (which is three times the 150 that can fit into the gallery). But it is one way of ensuring that the event remains productive, while also being more inclusive, removing the barriers of time zones and geographies. Curator Natasha Ginwala, who moderates the discussions at the hub, has chosen time as a running theme, which must resonate with people all over the world as they wait out the long months of the pandemic.

While the shift in modes of viewing and experiencing art has a tangible effect on movement in the market, it is also providing a much needed direction to various stakeholders and allowing them time to prepare better for the future.

“Our decision to change the fair dates has received overwhelming support as it provides clarity for our galleries, partners and audiences as they make their plans for the year ahead,” Jagdip Jagpal, the director of IAF, said in a recent statement. She clarifies to Lounge on email that IAF will continue to have “a year-round presence” digitally and “champion artists and their stories, as well as inspire conversation, creativity and curiosity while we plan for the fair in January 2022”.

With so many expectations hanging in the balance, 2022 sure has much to live up to.

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