AD Guru Mahesh Mathai offers a small glimpse into a vividly luxurious India tucked in Kochi.
The smell of spices waft through from the warehouses conjuring up images from The Moor’s Last Sigh. Walking along the narrow lanes of Mattanchery we were greeted by exotic whimsical wall art that blends Western and Indian classical kitsch. These were the first signs of the treasures that awaited us at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art—in it’s second edition. The wonderful old structures of Fort Kochi like Aspinwal House, David Hall, and Pepper House, during this time come alive with performance art, film, installation, painting, sculpture and new media. The sleepy old town feels like a culturally vibrant international hub with Indian and international artists and visitors rubbing shoulders between the exhibits in very unique surroundings. Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu can be seen hobnobbing with visitors, artists, gallerists and dignitaries. They are both eminent artists, and both from Kerala, and are the directorial and guiding force behind the Biennale.
The change in Fort Kochi from the time the Biennale came here is wonderful. From a place that had little more to claim than Chinese fishing nets, spice warehouses, and Jewish Synagogue, it now boasts galleries, artisanal craft shops, cafes and restaurants with all manner of international fare, bars on the waterfront, wonderful local cuisine and hotels to suit every kind of traveller. The 16-room, waterfront Xandari Harbour is a fine example of international design meeting local architecture. Built in an old warehouse that has been beautifully re-purposed it has all the luxuries a discerning traveller would want, especially a restaurant with a menu that combines the best of local and European tastes. At the start of Mattancherry, it is a walk away from all of Fort Kochi, the galleries and eating-places. Willingdon Island and Ernakulam are minutes across the water. During the festival, we took the boat to get to the closing ceremony of the Biennale at the Durbar Hall. We definitely will be back for the next edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale.