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Kochi was once just a popular tourist destination, but is now becoming one of India’s thriving art hubs, thanks to events like the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. During Biennale time, the whole city is abuzz with anticipation over the artistic surprises in store. But even on a normal day, there are many art studios and galleries nurturing the city’s talent. Here are the 10 best art galleries and museums to visit in this beautiful seaside town.
A timeworn Dutch home was transformed 12 years ago into one of Kochi’s most visionary art spaces. Since then the Kashi Art Gallery has constantly reinvented itself and become the cultural home of the contemporary art crowd of Kochi. In 2012, the gallery was restored by the new director Edgar Pinto and curator-director Tanya Abraham. The gallery has since seen important art exhibitions by prolific contemporary artists like GR Iranna, Sosa Joseph, Zakkir Hussein, Anoli Perera and Bose Krishnamachari. The gallery has also hosted several events for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The adjoining café quells hunger pangs by providing tasty treats and excellent coffee to fuel artistic conversations.
Like Kashi Art Gallery, David Hall is also steeped in colonial history. Constructed in 1695 by the Dutch East India Company, the majestic bungalow is named after its last inhabitant, the Jewish businessman David Koder. Today, the building houses an art gallery where a number of exhibitions, talks, live performances, film screenings and artistic workshops take place. Besides being an art gallery, the space serves as a cultural centre for Kochi: it supports contemporary visual practice and helps to build cultural dialogue between different forms of creative expression.
This beautiful architectural marvel, situated by the waterside, is another one of Kochi’s gems impregnated with colonial history. Formerly this dockside warehouse was used to store goods that were loaded onto waiting ships. Now, after undergoing restoration and renewal, the Dutch style heritage building accommodates a courtyard café, an art gallery, artist studios and serves as an event space for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Pepper House also runs an artist residency programme, which is an initiative lead by the Biennale team. The residency aims to create cultural discourse through artistic collaboration between artists, cultural institutions and the local community. Eventually there are plans to transform Pepper House into a versatile cultural space where various artistic activities will be promoted.
Besides Aspinwall House, the other venue at the centre stage of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is Moidu’s Heritage Plaza. This former warehouse of Allepey Company (a coir trading business) is rundown and dingy, but it is this very quality that becomes the strength of the venue, thus making it a fascinating place to exhibit art. Ernesto Neto’s installation with spices, from the 2012-13 biennale, evoked the image of Kerala at its most abundant, something that the gallery’s history also reflects. The conversation that ensued between the venue and the displayed work provided the entire visual experience with an evocative air. It is the rustic nature of Moidu’s Heritage that has made it one of Kochi’s most experimental and innovative contemporary art venues.