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Biennale Collaterals Seek to Refresh Societal Views on Taboos, Migratory History

Kochi: The carved wooden box has a tastefully ethnic look, yet there is no denying it symbolises the confessional at the church. Only, the artwork has a mouth inside with a bin welcoming taboo ideas that have been ruling society for centuries.

Again, this installation as part of Kochi-Muziris Biennale collateral show is not squarish, but triangular. For, it denotes the concept of the Trinity in Christianity: the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Luxembourg artist Sophie Medawar’s exhibit at the Kashi Art Gallery here is part of a collateral show curated by writer-author Tanya Abraham.

Welcome to the Kochiite researcher’s show ‘Of Memories and Might’ as part of the 108-day biennale that is on till March 29.  Tanya hosts works of six women artists, among whom is Sophie and her portrayal of social taboos that are entrenched in human minds.

The Lebanese-origin Sophie came across taboos from her personal experiences. Her 7.5-foot-tall installation at one end looks like the zari windows, a natural ventilation device that women in the Middle East used to see their guests without being watched themselves.

“It is the same with taboos…nobody knows who is hiding a secret: whether one behind the trellis or the visitor,” notes Tanya, explaining the work. “This was not an easy job for the carpenters. The intricate designs took a year to finish.”

One who gets inside the cubicle will find strips of paper. Take one, write on it your set of taboos, fold and drop it into a bin with a slit that is shaped like a mouth.

Once the biennale ends, the artist will collect all those papers. Soon, with the help of professional embroiders, Sophie would get them copied onto an open saree. The garment will thus come to represent a range of taboos. The artist believes that reading them on the saree will lend a healing touch to people having similar notions or same issues.

‘Of Memory and Might’ has a second artist who is from outside India. Catherine Stoll-Simon is French. Then there is Shubha Taparia from Ahmedabad. The rest three Indians have familial roots in Kerala: Indu Antony (Bangalore-based), Lakshmi Madhavan (Mumbai) and Parvathi Nayar (Chennai).

The works of all these artists symbolise the nuances of life with reference to social stigmas, neglected feminineness, transcendence of life and cultural dogmas, notes the curator, a one-time journalist who is the founder of The Art Outreach Society (TAOS), an NGO that works for the relief of women and marginalised women.

Tanya has simultaneously curated another show, which is a running at Mattancherry, adjacent to Fort Kochi where she lives. Titled, ‘Red Crown, Green Parrot’, it is exhibited at the historical Jew Town—and is a continuation of a collateral at the previous (third) edition of the biennale by a West Asian researcher.

Meydad Eliyahu, who is based in Jerusalem, is this time an artist at the collateral. Meydad, along with young Kochi-born Thoufeek Zakariya renowned for his expertise in Hebrew calligraphy, relives the memories of a grand and ancient Jewish heritage of the Malabari Jews of this city. The public-art work at Marakkadavu Junction focuses on those who migrated from Kochi, leaving their heritage to a vanishing existence after the formation of the state of Israel in 1949.

The curator and the two artists feel the need to highlight lost aspects of history. While Maydad traces his ancestral roots to Kochi, Thoufeek currently works as a chef in the Arab emirate of Dubai. Together, they have transformed one pocket of the Jew Town here into a celebration of paintings and texts that seek to recreate a past. The calligraphy is in three languages: Hebrew, Malayalam and English.

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