Shubigi Rao presenting one of S. Raoul’s inventions at the Conference of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping in Beijing, China, 2012. Photo: The Neuro Bureau.

Shubigi Rao to Curate Fifth Kochi-Muziris Biennale

The Kochi Biennale Foundation has named Singapore-based visual artist and writer Shubigi Rao curator of the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which will be held next year. Her appointment was announced at a press conference at the Palazzo Franchetti in Venice ahead of the opening of the Venice Biennale on Saturday.

Known for her multidisciplinary practice and artworks, which range from layered installations of books, etchings, and drawings to pseudo-scientific machines, the forty-three-year-old Indian artist was chosen for her “exceptional acumen and inventive sensibilities” by a search committee comprising Amrita Jhaveri, Gayatri Sinha, Jitish Kallat, Sunita Choraria, and Tasneem Mehta, along with foundation trustees Alex Kuruvilla, Bose Krishnamachari, and V Sunil.

Rao’s recent solo exhibitions include “The Wood for the Trees” (2018) at the Objectifs Center for Photography and Film in Singapore; “Written in the Margins” (2017) at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin; and “The Retrospectacle of S. Raoul” (2013) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.

Rao has also participated in various international group shows, such as the Tenth Taipei Biennial (2016), the Third Pune Biennale (2017), and the last Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which closed on March 29. In addition, she has authored a number of books, including Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book (2016), a research project about the history of censorship, the destruction of books, and cultural genocide that Rao also made into a film, and The Life and Times of S. Raoul (2013), which chronicles the ten years of artwork and writing she produced under the pseudonym S. Raoul, a fictional scientist she invented and whose work she exhibited at the global conference of neuroscientists.

“Biennales are sometimes floating cities that are unmoored from their locality/regionality,” Rao said. “Kochi-Muziris Biennale is rooted in the intertwined histories and cultural multiplicities of Kochi, while providing a crucial platform for larger discourse of the critical, political, and social in artistic practices. To shift the lens through which we read the spectacle of exhibition, we must reposition discourse and practice through acknowledging intersecting contexts.”

The news of the appointment comes in the wake of controversy over the Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s last edition. The biennial foundation was accused of not paying some of the construction workers who helped build one of the exhibition’s main venues. In response to the dispute, the organization said the allegations were part of a “disinformation campaign” and that the bills submitted by one of the contractors who sent a legal notice to the foundation were exorbitant. It has since hired an independent, government-approved valuer to help resolve the matter.