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Anita Dube: Towards a people’s biennale

Artist Anita Dube speaks of the Kochi biennale's decision to choose her as its first woman curator, and her plans to make it more inclusive

Anita Dube
Anita Dube

A few days before the closing ceremony of the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) on 29 March, Anita Dube received a call informing her that she had been selected to take on the mantle of curator from Sudarshan Shetty. Given that even high-profile patrons of the biennale, such as Vivan Sundaram, had been making a case for a woman at the helm, Dube’s appointment has been welcomed widely,particularly since her practice is known for its embrace of the political. Her sculptural, video, photographic and performative work has spoken of issues of consumption and consumerism, while her architectural “word" sculptures of wire mesh have poetic as well as political intonations. Dube, who has spent the last four years building her studio in Kaladham in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, hopes to bring the same energy and collaborative spirit to her curatorial process. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How did you react to the news?

My immediate reaction was, “I’ll let you know by tomorrow." ...I was very pleasantly surprised, (and) a little bit shocked. It’s a huge deal. Then I thought I’m up for it. I put all my energy into constructing my studio and since it’s nearly done, I have time now. I’m not on a roll as far as my career as an artist (is concerned). I don’t have solo shows lined up in Europe and the US, and I’m not even looking for that.

Had you also been rooting for a woman to be the curator of KMB?

Last year I, too, was disappointed. It should have been a woman. But a friend said that it took 10 documenta (a contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany) editions for them to appoint a woman curator. This is the fourth (KMB) edition. In that sense, it’s a very progressive decision. It took them this long, but it’s okay. It’s a courageous choice, especially in a place like Kerala, which is such a male-dominated society.

Can we expect a more political edition of the KMB?

Given my history with the Indian Radical Painters’ (and Sculptors’ Association, a group of artists who believe that the purpose of art is to raise political and social consciousness), it will very much be political, but not just in content. There is that misconception that if the content is political, it is political art. For me, political means women, feminists, voices, margins…. My edition will be connected to the way I work as an artist. Sudarshan’s edition was very true to the way he thinks about things, as with Jitish (Kallat). If you don’t go with your subjectivity, it won’t work.

I want to make the biennale a more inclusive affair. I don’t want to talk down to my audience. When I accepted the position, I said in my little speech that I would be interested in trying to find out what are the possibilities for non-alienated life. Big exhibitions can very often leave you untouched. There’s a sense of alienation and non-belonging. I will attempt to get past this problem. How can we make people feel like they belong to culture? Many of the key ideas that I have incorporated into my building will be carried forward in the biennale. film screenings with workers building your studio?

Yes, the screenings with workers, or certain elements where you can keep adding new material so it’s not a permanent exhibit—like the outer wall of my studio. I see the possibility to expand these ideas. The building has a location that is limited, but the ideas can have another life within the context of the biennale.

What about scale? Shetty had 97 artists from 31 countries…

I’m not interested in big numbers. In fact, I want to keep it tight and really meaningful. I’m going to also send out a message to all my friends to let me know if there’s somebody’s work I should look at. I have already been thinking about the artists I have been loving for the last 20 years, I see this as an opportunity for me to honour them. I’ll be open to suggestions. I don’t want to make the biennale cumbersome. It will be great if it’s smallish, but an enriching, happy experience.

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