More than a millennium after rudimentary forms of the violin came to India from his ancestral land, Ibrahim Quraishi has lent another dimension to the aesthetics of the string instrument by featuring it in the country’s first biennale.
At Pepper House, the artist of Uzbek-Yemeni descent, has hung tastefully from a tile-roof ceiling a long row of 30 white violins which has caught the fancy of visitors.
The prime among the points of interest about the video and sound installation in Fort Kochi could be the familial moorings of the artist. Quraishi lives in the Netherlands, but his parents hail from that belt of the world which is believed to be the birthplace of the violin - in its primitive shape and tenor.
Musicologists differ about the exactness, but largely believe that the violin originated in Inner Asia, from where its variants spread to India no less than ten centuries ago, besides to other parts of the world - and finally acquired its modern characteristics in 16th-century Italy.
At the ongoing biennale, Kenya-born Quraishi’s much-publicised ‘Islamic Violins’ showcases a set of instruments that were bought from Pakistan. “They then made their way through Amsterdam, where I live. I have sculpturally perfected the violins,” says the 40-year-old artist who works with a wide scale of mediums like photography, photo painting, video, film, installation, performance, dance and theatre.
There is, however, much more than music to the work. It is a homage to the Fluxus movement that developed an anti-establishment and anti-commercial approach to art in the 1960s, according to the organisers of the three-month event that is slated to end on March 13. The half-a-decade-old movement had gained momentum by staging intuitive ‘aktion’ works, performances, low-budget do-it-yourself art editions and other events, intending to free art from the boundaries of the institutions and the market, notes a KBF spokesperson.
Quraishi says ‘Islamic Violins’ is inspired by Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Turkish poetry’s attempt to address the ideal of the beloved in its most untouched and perfected form. “The violin stands for the ideal body and spirit; in its perfectly symmetrical repetition it brings about meditative serenity and a sepulchral, timeless beauty,” adds the artist, whose primary interest is in the exploration of “visual performativity and its relationship to broader cultural perspectives.”
Hence, the installation at a longish hall in the sea-facing heritage building has also a grainy mini-video which produces sound that stand in absolute contrast with the serenity of the image.
The ‘low-tech’ explosion of violins and the survey of the debris created by the onslaught interfere with the contemplation of beauty. Overall, it is not surprising that veteran artist Namboodiri cited ‘Islamic Violins’ as the work which struck him the most at the biennale.