The Haunting Water Motif

The motif of water has been a recurrent one in all three editions of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, with its representative idea being a wide spectrum ranging from contemporary issues to historical reminiscings.

Even as Raul Zurita’s ‘In the Sea of Pain’ linger as the strongest aftertaste of pain amongst the installations in KMB 2016, representing the anguish of the refugees and of the Mediterranean where they drowned in thousands, Anamika Haksar’s ‘Composition in Water’ uses the motif to explore the hardheartedness by which the right to fresh water is shorn of the Dalits, its usage only provided when the ‘elite’ is satisfied with their fill. The performance which features two water sources – a fresh cascading wall of water placed in glaring contrast to a rusted drain pipe spewing dirty water – structures water as a metaphor for class, hygiene and purity.

‘Kaalapani’ (Blackwater), an artwork by Andrew Ananda Voogel in KMB 2014 used the seawater to illustrate the trauma of the Jahajis of Guyana, a community whose ancestors were Indian indentured workers who were employed in the Carribean sugarcane plantations. The work depicts displacement and detention and recalls these histories of their violent departure and exile. Anish Kapoor’s ‘Descension’, a whirling black pool of water in the same edition was an attempt to destabilize the experience of the strength of the ground we stand on, pointing to the transience of human existence.

Raul Zurita

Raul Zurita with his installation ‘Sea of Pain’ at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016.

In Alfredo Jaar’s ‘Cloud for Kochi’ in KMB 2012, an effective use of neon and water — symbolic of modernity and history — is employed to metaphorically place the idea of Kochi and Muziris inside a frame of an eerie room lit by neon script on the walls made legible only by its reflection on the water. Jaar’s neon cloud drifting through Kochi still carrying reflection from the past, is an ode to a place that was once washed away.

Ahora Soy Buddha (Now I’m Buddha) by Alexis Leiva Machado in the same edition, portrays a wooden human structure symbolizing the people of Cuba, afloat in the sea and the shore which are opposing symbols of voyage and captivity. The human structure is trapped in a communist reality with rigid control within (sea) and hostile arid world outside (land). Water or sea, man’s first means of escape and the element on which the world sailed to the Indian shores, is a significant part of Kochi’s present and of Muziris’s past, and thus a persistent trope in the Kochi Muziris Biennale.


(Article that appeared in Times of India, Kochi on March, 2017)


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