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Kochi-Muziris Biennale Cofounder Steps Down Following Sexual Harassment Allegations

Riyas Komu, cofounder and secretary of India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has been accused of sexual misconduct and has temporarily stepped down from his post. Allegations against Komu first surfaced on the anonymously run Instagram account @herdsceneand on October 16. The account, which was created earlier this month, claims that it is “cutting though BS in the Indian Art world, one predator and power play, at a time.”

The accuser, a thirty-seven-year-old female artist, said that she met Komu during a studio visit in Mumbai in 2015. She claims that he invited her to Kochi, India, to discuss a potential project. After she arrived in the city, she attended an event with Komu. At the end of the evening, he walked her to her hotel, where he allegedly invited himself into her room and then began forcibly kissing her.

Komu has denied the allegations. On his own Instagram account, he wrote: “As an artist who is committed to social and political causes, I support the #MeToo movement that has disrupted the prevailing structures of authority and created ways for representing previously suppressed voices . . . I’m deeply upset that this incident has been understood and presented in this manner. However, as the person has expressed hurt, I would like here to offer my apologies and I am opening myself to the possibility of a conversation.”

The Kochi Biennale Foundation also issued a statement addressing the accusations. In a joint statement, members of the event’s managing committee said that while there has been no formal complaint against Komu, “we are collectively committed to ensuring zero tolerance to any harassment or misconduct, and have decided to constitute a committee to inquire into this matter.” They added that Komu will not be returning “till the matter is resolved.” “The Kochi Biennale Foundation is responsible for the safety and security of its community, and will take all measures to ensure this as we work together in making the Biennale.”

[Update:]

Anita Dube, curator of the upcoming 2018 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which opens in December, issued a statement on the controversey surrounding Komu and the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s pending investigation. It reads: 

“This is in response to the disturbing allegation of sexual harassment against Riyas Komu, Secretary, KBF [Kochi Biennale Foundation], on social media. There is an atmosphere of misogyny prevailing unchallenged in most institutions led by men, KBF being no exception.

As the first woman curator, I take the issue of women’s empowerment i.e. Feminism, seriously. It informs my curatorial deliberations and I try to practice what I preach.

Purushamedhavitwam [Patriarchy], has gone about the business of using women’s bodies, their labour, their intelligence to further its own causes. This is what Feminism as a radical consciousness has been questioning.

The MeToo Movement is part of this questioning. Its a flood and the flood gates have been opened. What was considered (for centuries) the perks of masculinity, is being called out today as totally unacceptable to women, as a violation of their human rights. I stand in complete solidarity, salute those who are brave enough to put their name at stake, support those who are disempowered and remain anonymous.

In Riyas Komu stepping down, the Kochi Biennale Foundation has taken remedial action, and begun the process of structural change, taking into consideration suggestions from the employees and the curatorial team.

I take this as an opportunity for everyone to reflect and contribute to the strengthening of KBF. Institutions are hard to build; it would be foolish to pull one down, and wiser to turn a mirror to its face.”

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