Port Muziris is one of India’s greatest archaeological findings of the 21st century. The port is no myth, we have conclusive evidence for its existence, yet it remains surrounded by grand historical, often hyperbolic, narratives. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale has always maintained that it is as much about the art as it is about its host city of Kochi. Muziris (located 30kms from Kochi) is known amongst historians and archaeologists as having stood for cosmopolitanism and that is a spirit that the Biennale has accepted wholeheartedly.
It is in this part of India that we find its first mosques, synagogues, and churches. The Cheraman Juma Masjid is India’s oldest mosque dating back to 629 AD. It is said that Christianity reached here as early as 52 AD. However, the current atmosphere threatens the cosmopolitan inheritance of the city of Kochi and that of Port Muziris. At this stage, the cultural message of the city is vital and this Kochi Biennale is set to invoke it.
Artists too in previous editions of the Biennale have picked up on the long history of the city and have produced artworks reflecting upon it. Artist Vivan Sundaram produced his installation titled ‘Black Gold’ using potsherds from the Pattanam archaeological site and formed an imaginary Muziris out of it. Through it, he tried to represent the rampant pepper trade in the historical port of Muziris.
The Roman Empire needed a lot of pepper to preserve its meat during winter. The Arab merchants served as intermediaries between the port of Muziris and the Roman Empire. However, the Arab merchants charged exorbitant rates for the pepper. Hence, the Roman empire sent its Greek sailors to Muziris to get the pepper.
The Muziris Heritage Project (or the Pattanam Excavations) started in the year 2007 and based on its findings concluded that Muziris was an essential port for trade on the spice route. It is said that a flood in the 14th century in the Periyar river submerged the port and marked its demise.
Aspinwall House, the main venue for the Biennale, is a 19th-century British heritage building. It was used as a business house for the export items such as coir, pepper and other products. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a chance for you to submerge yourself into history and art all at once.
The countdown for the Kochi Muziris Biennale has begun and promises the intermingling of the past and present through the world of art. With only a few days to go, you can plan your visit and book your tickets.