Artists allege financial irregularities in Lokame Tharavadu, Biennale

Anu C Kuruvilla

KOCHI: Controversy seems to be doggedly nipping at the heels of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. A group of artists led by Prof Ajayakumar, former dean of Visual Arts, World University of Design, New Delhi, has submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking an investigation into the alleged financial irregularities at the foundation.

Armed with RTI replies regarding the funds allocated to and spent for the conduct of ‘Lokame Tharavadu’, which saw participation by 267 artists, and the Kochi Muziris Biennale, the artists said they wanted to bring to the CM’s attention the exploitation of the art community by the foundation. “I have been a part of Lokame Tharavadu art fest and as an artist, I am a well-wisher of such events. It is very good that such events happen. But it doesn’t sit well when people use art to exploit others while lining their pockets,” he said.

The other artists who are signatories to the memorandum are artist B D Dethan, former chairman of Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademy K A Francis, former chairman, Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademy and former regional secretary of Kendra Lalitha Kala Akademy T A Sathyapal, and artist Ajith Kumar G.

In the memorandum, the artists said the foundation claimed that it had sourced funds required for the conduct of the fest from private parties. “The foundation told the artists taking part in the event that the state government has not given any funds,” said Ajayakumar. The works of just a handful of artists were collected, transported to the venue and back after the event by the organisers, he said. “All others had to do everything by themselves,” the artists stated in the memorandum.

“The foundation claimed to have spruced up the venues that included five museums for the event. However, in reality, the venues were renovated and repaired under the Alappuzha Heritage Project undertaken as a part of the Muziris Heritage Project using funds from the KIIFB,” Ajayakumar said.
“The huge amount of funds being given by the state government to the foundation in the name of the conduct of Biennale is not logical. Rs 7 crore is a huge sum. Add to it the funds given by private sponsors, the foundation is getting a lot of money. But are they spending it right? Now that is a big question that needs to be answered,” he said.

In 2021-2022, the tourism department released Rs 1.22 crore for the restoration, renovation and maintenance of the heritage venues for the event, said the artists in the memorandum. “However, nothing on this line had been done,” said Ajayakumar. For the conduct of an event spanning three months, funds to the tune of Rs 7 crore is not needed. Utmost, logically, the organisers will only need Rs 1.5 crore, he said. “In the case of Biennale, all Indian artists are paying to get their works exhibited. The amounts range from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh,” he said.

Replying to the allegations, Bose Krishnamachari, president, Kochi Biennale Foundation, said, “The date of submission is August 23, 2022, as mentioned in the memorandum which is said to have been submitted to the chief minister. That was four months ago.”

“During this period, I have been in contact with the CM’s office several times regarding the Biennale matters. But no officer told me about such a memorandum. The CM inaugurated the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on December 12. Pinarayi’s attendance for this edition’s inaugural highlights his and the government’s support to the Biennale and the Biennale Foundation,” he said. “The memorandum is now being given to the media in the context of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale exhibition with the intention of tarnishing the image of the Biennale,” added Krishnamachari.

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