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Representing Queer At Biennale 2018

Priyamvada Rana 18 Jan 2019

For every art lover Fort Kochi is akin to a ‘Promised Land’ because of its artsy- hipster Cafes, rustic colonial architecture, centuries old spice market and titilating sea shore. Explorers and art zealots would be further enthralled if they’re lucky to witness the biggest contemporary art extravaganza in Asia- Kochi Muziris Biennale. This multidisciplinary exhibition always manages to hit the headlines for its groundbreaking artworks and performances along with a unique curatorial vision; ‘Art of Discovery (2014) to bridging gap between Real and Myth(2016).

What makes Biennale 2018 different is the parasol vision of first female curator Anita Dube; Possibilities of a Non- Alienated Life that emphasise on plurality and voicing the concerns of marginalised communities.

 Zanele Muholi- Faces and Phases, Image courtsey : digital warscapes

With a wide gamut of themes on display, Queer Representation takes the centre stage in many of the artworks deconstructing the heteronormative notions of what is acceptable and what is not in societal limits. The works of Biennale artists like Aryakrishnan Ramakrishnan, Tejal Shah, Akram Zaatari and Zanele Muholi representative of Queer and LGBTQAI+ subjects, portray a creative interplay of art and activism.

Akram Zaatari- Tomorrow everything will be alright. Image source : Video Brasil

“I am an artist who happened to be queer, and was friends with Maria, a fellow LGBTQ activist and I did the monument called Sweet Maria at Biennale in order to commemorate her and many others who lost their lives on being murdered” says Aryakrishnan. The young artist has created a room at Aspinwall House that defines a space for the trans activist. The room is stuffed with obscuringly drawn paintings and queer portraits, books, a small dressing table, tea table, a window and a neatly made bed that altogether seems to locate and assert Maria’s  identity in the surroundings, which is something the activist have strived to achieve before meeting her fatal death.

This assertion of identity and spaces is evident in South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s photographic series too named Faces and Phases that celebrate the lives of black lesbians and queer women. Though South Africa legalised same sex marriage in 2006 but due to absence of written and visual history about minority black queer women, Zanele took up on the project and interacted with her subjects that got metamorphosed into frames. Her queer subjects are women that are not modelled to act for the visual treat, infact their seemingly bold postures, raw gestures, unsettling style and intense gazes affirm for validation and dignity from the spectators.

The vocation for queer themes extends to other visual media like short films where Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari presents his film Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (2010) at this year’s edition. Treated in a documentary style, the short film speaks of the desire for union of a gay couple, that got separated ten years before but longs to be together. The story unfolds over an analog typewriter where words are typed hastily and feverishly by the subjects that heightens the urge of the viewer to see the outcome of this exchange. Will they meet again? Why did they separate? These are some intriguing questions that the viewer is left for to decide.

Sweet Maria by Aryakrishnan. Image source - Kochi Biennale 2018

Another artist, Tejal Shah from India is interested in queer theory and non-dualist philosophy. Her works combining performance art, photography and video -sound installation focus on themes like gender, sexuality, identity and politics where her protagonists are transgender and transsexual women that are ‘Othered’ by society and seek for inclusion.

Sweet Maria by Aryakrishnan. Image source - Kochi Biennale 2018

All these works seem to herald that art is not just for the sake of pleasure. It can be innovatively exploited to provide a social commentary on society. With such philanthropic tapestry of works, the quest for a society without gender barriers seems to harbinger an incremental change of which we ‘all shall be equal partisans rather than mere mute spectators.

Kochi-Muziris Biennale that started on December 12, 2018 continues till March 29, 2019.

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