Renowned Mumbai artist Jitish Kallat is one of 73 artists from 35 countries participating in the ongoing 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) ending this month. This art extravaganza boasts of 200 works which are on view at 12 venues in Bangkok, including the convention centre where the APEC conference was held last year and the city’s best-known temples.
The site-specific installations at the storied Buddhist temples are one of the highlights of the biennales at Bangkok.
UK-based Indian artist Anish Kapoor had two major installations in the last biennale, at the city’s famed Wat Pho and Wat Arun temples. A glossy book of these pioneering installations in the Thai temples was released at this biennale.
Antony Gormley from the UK has two large metal installations in Wat Pho this year. Entitled “Connect”, they indeed connect with the Thai stupas, Chinese statues and the Indian Asoka tree in the temple.
So do the two great works of the late legendary Thai artist Montien Boonma, which includes a giant Buddha head and a sanctuary-like “Aarogyasala” in the same temple. Vastly different is Thai artist Pattanopas’ AR animation works at another iconic Thai temple, Wat Prayoon.
Malaysian artist Yee-I-Lann uses symbolic mats and plays videos of tribal dancers with weaver hats in the sermon hall of Wat Prayoon as an ode to her weaver-grandfather.
“Chaos and Calm” is the symbolic post-Covid theme of the 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale. Artistic director of the biennale Dr Apinan Poshyananda admits that the theme arose from the chaos of Covid. But he hastens to add that the chaos and the relative calm prevailing in the moment “are not binary opposites at all”.
“Chaos is the birthplace of art,” says Kallat. “Art is the process of meaning-making through the use of seemingly unrelated symbols,” he explains.
Agreeing with him is Marina Abramovic, the legendary “long duration performance artist” who is the biggest name at the biennale. She stated simply that all her works dealt with both chaos and calm! The artist told this writer that she had been visiting India for more than two decades, and has travelled everywhere, “from Dehradun to Trivandrum”. “Everything starts in India,” she declares.
Jan Kath of Germany has close connections with India, too. He works with rugs which are acquired from India and Nepal where he has workshops.
Among the other international artists at the Bangkok biennale are Aboriginal artists from Australia displaying their magnificent wall-art and artists from Russia and Ukraine who said they had re-located to other countries in order to purse their art.
A unique performance is “Collective Absentia” from Myanmar by an individual who remained anonymous and sat in silence for several hours a day wearing a black hood. It was a silent protest against the many nameless killings in his country.
Canada-based Pakistani artist Tazeen Qayyum has made a fine artwork of delicately designed cockroaches which, she says, came out of her study of Indian miniature art. The cockroaches, to her, symbolise grossness and also resilience, and referred to the unjustified labeling of certain communities (like hers) in the West after the “War on Terror”.
A major highlight of BAB 22 is a “virtual venue”. It is a special platform for digital artists. So, at BAB 22, the artistes are not confined to a geo-location, but can be viewed around the world.
Kallat has two major art-works at the Bangkok biennale. His wall installation “Integer Studies (Drawings from Life)” is made up of 365 drawings, enumerating daily births and deaths and done during the Covid lockdown year. His sculptural installation “Two Minutes toMidnight” seeks to connect the prehistoric past to a prophesised future. He is excited about being at the Kochi Biennale 22, where he has been a participating artist for many years and which is being held now, after a long break of four years.
“It’s become one of the largest art events in Asia,” said the Mumbai-based Keralite. He admitted that the contemporary art scene in India is rich and active. He himself has several solo exhibitions in 2023, both in India and abroad. His wife Reena Saini Kallat is a busy and renowned Indian contemporary artist who was featured at the last Bangkok biennale.
Art critic David Elliott, at BAB 22, has this to say about Kallat: “He’s one of those who confronted Indian history and the whole identity of India, on a very large scale.”
Kallat has the last word about biennales. “I think of biennales as a de-extinction project where you can test out endangered ideas!” he exclaims.
For more info, check http://www.bkkartbiennale.com/