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India’s rivers will flow through Kochi Biennale

Artist Sudarshan Shetty to curate exhibition that has drawn a million visitors

The Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty, who is the curator of the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which opens in Kerala, south India, in December, says he is taking inspiration from India’s great rivers, both mythical and real. “I was thinking of water and the flow of it, taking an analogy of the great rivers, one of them being a hidden river that only exists in people’s belief and imagination,” he says, referring to the famous Saraswati, the lost holy river that appears in ancient Indian texts.

Shetty says that his show has no “over-arching theme”, but will aim to open up the meaning of contemporary art beyond the Western canon, even embracing ideas from traditional theatre. The water analogy, for example, was inspired by the work of the Indian playwright, theatre director and former painter Ratan Thiyam.

Shetty quotes him as saying: “Tradition is not a stagnant pool of water; it’s a waterfall that comes from behind and dashes into all the stones, and finds its own course, and goes forward.” Shetty adds that Kerala has a long history of cinema, theatre and visual culture.

Shetty says that 26 artists, mostly international, have so far been selected, out of a final tally of around 70 or 80. Their work will be shown in nine venues. One artist, the Brazilian poet Raúl Zurita, has already visited Kochi.

Despite being a new event, the biennial has already drawn almost one million visitors to its first two incarnations, according to the organisers, matching the crowds at the Venice Biennale.

Meanwhile, an exhibition of Shetty’s work closes at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi on 6 March.

• Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 12 December- 29 March 2017