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Cabral Yard, the art lab

Posted December 4th, 2018, 10:42 AM IST

Cabral Yard, the art lab

Among its dozen-odd venues the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) has had on an average in each of its three editions by far, there is none like Cabral Yard that has changed contours and even function at the subcontinent’s biggest contemporary art festival which is readying for the next show.

A particularly verdant rectangular plot of 1.6 acres in Fort Kochi, it had featured pivotal installations in the first two chapters of KMB (2012 and ’14), while the 2016 edition saw it house a pavilion that hosted performing arts programmes that ran alongside the biennale. This time, starting December 12, Cabral Yard will house a multi-functional structure that doubles as a ‘knowledge laboratory’ as envisioned by KMB 2018 curator Anita Dube.

With its undulations, this plot is situated by the bend of the road that runs alongside Aspinwall House, invariably the main KMB venue. The yard got its name after Pedro Álvares Cabral, the first Portuguese sailor who reached Kochi way back in 1500 AD. The Cochin King accorded a warm welcome to Cabral the sailor along with his fleet (after facing hostility up in Malabar’s Calicut). So much so, the Portuguese subsequently got the consent to set up a base in Kochi, where they launched a spice factory.

Five centuries later, a similar kind of bond has existed between Cabral Yard and KMB. For the record, the property was acquired in 1904 by Aspinwall & Company. The 1867-founded commercial enterprise built there a hydraulic baling press for coir yarn.

The upcoming Biennale Pavilion will be the venue for Biennale lectures and workshops besides letting the visitors perform extempore in a free-spirited way. It will also be the place for the KBF’s novel project called ABC, that is Art By Children, which aims to groom younger talents. KMB 2018 has 10 venues.

The pavilion for the first and second KMB was built in Aspinwall House. Into the third, the curator, Sudarshan Shetty, thought it important for its visitors to not gather thickly in just one venue but get spread across venues instead. Result: Cabral Yard became the plot for the pavilion.

The Kochi Biennale Foundation, which organises the KMB, finds the pavilion an important space. “It is where people gather and participate/view a lot of activities. Cabral Yard fits well into such demands,” says Bose Krishnamachari, founder-president of the KBF. “It holds talks, screens films, display exhibits, holds educational and entertainment activities and much more.”

This time, the pavilion will see people hanging around, sitting and conversing in a freer way than usual, according to Bose, also a co-curator of the first KMB. It will have two food courts: a community cafe by the Kerala government’s women-empowering Kudumbashree volunteers and by Edible Archives that is essentially an infra project. Besides, Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn will be holding a six-hour daily workshop for 30 days inside the Cabral Yard.

At the inaugural 2012 KMB, Cabral Yard was the site for the works of two artists: Mumbaikar Shetty and US-based Afghan-origin Amanullah Mojadidi. In the next edition, Valsan Koorma Kolleri transformed the terrain with his work ‘How Goes the Enemy’.

In 2016, the plot accommodated two artworks (by artists Katrina Neiburga, Andris Eglitis, Sophie Dejode and Bertrand Lacombe) besides the Pavilion (built by Tony Joseph).

Overall, Cabral Yard depicts the varied quests of people over the centuries. In the medieval times, it was a plot for explorers on a conquest and then a commercial venture (courtesy English trader John H Aspinwall), while in the KMB decade the land brims with the spirit of artistic experimentation.