Singapore, India, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Fort Kochi, Venice, Shubigi Rao, Mumbai, Istituto Europeo di Design, Palazzo Franchetti, Amrita Jhaveri, Italy, Gayatri Sinha, Jitish Kallat, Sunita Choraria, Tasneem Mehta, Alex Kuruvilla, Bose Krishnamachari, V. Sunil, Taipei Biennial, Pune Biennale, Singapore Biennale, Singapore Writers Festival, Germany, Rome, APB Signature Prize, Singapore Literature Prize

Singapore-based India-born artist Shubigi Rao to curate Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

Singapore-based Indian-origin artist and writer Shubigi Rao has been named the curator of the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale that begins on December 12, 2020

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) selection committee, which made the announcement in Venice on Thursday, unanimously decided to appoint compulsive archivist and visual artist Shubigi Rao for her “exceptional acumen and inventive sensibilities” to curate the upcoming KMB 2020. The appointment is in keeping with the tradition of an artist helming the contemporary art festival that debuted in 2012 and is held in Fort Kochi.

Mumbai-born Rao, whose work featured in the fourth edition of the KMB (2018), is known for her complex and layered installations. She is also a writer…and her myriad interests include archaeology, neuroscience, libraries, archival systems, histories, literature, violence, acts of cultural genocide, anti-censorship, migratory patterns, ecology and natural history.

The decision to choose Rao, 43, was announced at Istituto Europeo di Design, Palazzo Franchetti in Venice—the Italian city that hosted the world’s first biennale (in 1895). The announcement came after lengthy deliberations within a search committee comprising Amrita Jhaveri, Gayatri Sinha, Jitish Kallat, Sunita Choraria and Tasneem Mehta, besides Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) trustees Alex Kuruvilla, Bose Krishnamachari and V Sunil.

V Sunil, Secretary, Kochi Biennale Foundation; Gayatri Sinha, art critic & curator;  Bose Krishnamachari, artist, president, Kochi Biennale Foundation; Shubigi Rao, artist, curator,  Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020; Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee and honorary director, Bhau Daji Lad Museum; Jitish Kallat, artist, curator, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014; and Sudarshan Shetty, artist, curator, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. 

Rao expressed happiness about her appointment. “Biennales are sometimes floating cities that are unmoored from their locality/regionality. Kochi-Muziris Biennale is rooted in the intertwined histories and cultural multiplicities of Kochi, while providing a crucial platform for a larger discourse of the critical, political and social in artistic practices,” she said. “To shift the lens through which we read the spectacle of exhibition, we must reposition discourse and practice through acknowledging intersecting contexts. I believe it is possible for the Biennale to retain regional realities and histories through cementing existing affinities and establishing new commons.”

Krishnamachari, a co-founder of the 2010-instituted KBF, described Rao as a “brilliant and original” artist. “Responding to the Foundation’s interest in selecting a young curator with varied interests, the section committee chose Rao for her exceptional talent,” he noted.

Secretary Sunil described Rao as a multi-faceted artist with wide-ranging interests. “We look forward to another exciting edition of the Biennale under her curatorship,” he added.

Besides featuring in the fourth edition of the KMB, Rao participated in the 10th Taipei Biennial (2016), 3rd Pune Biennale (2017), the 2nd Singapore Biennale (2008) and the Singapore Writers Festival (2016, 2013). She was also selected for residency programmes in Singapore, Germany and India.

Her notable exhibitions include The Wood for the Trees (2018), Written in the Margins (2017), The Retrospectacle of S. Raoul (2013), and Useful Fictions (2013). Rao’s group shows include About Books at AlbumArte, Rome (2018); the Signature Art Prize finalist exhibition at National Museum Singapore (2018); Ghost on the Wire 21 (2016); Dear Painter (2015); Urban:ness (2015); Modern Love (2014); Still Building (2012); Singapore Survey: Beyond LKY (2010); Found and Lost (2009); Singapore Art Show at the Singapore Art Museum (2007); Second Dance Song (2006); Appetites for Litter (2006); and New Contemporaries (2005).

Since 2014, Rao has been visiting public and private collections, libraries and archives globally for Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book, a decade-long film, book and visual art project about the history of book destruction. The first portion of the project, Written in the Margins, won the Juror’s Choice Award at the APB Signature Prize 2018. The first volume from the project was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 2018. The project has two of its proposed five volumes released.

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