Called the 'Best Biennale' by the Tate Modern, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is India's largest contemporary art festival, held every two years in the beautiful and humble town of Kochi, Kerala. The exhibits are set all across the city - in pretty little cafes, abandoned warehouses, heritage buildings and shops. With artworks spanning a variety of mediums including film, installation, painting, sculpture, new media and performance art, this year's event had 97 artists participating from 35 different countries.
After all, fashion and lifestyle brands, world over, have had some very successful partnerships with artists. Yayoi Kusama, the 'Princess of Polka' has created a polka dotted range of scarves, bags and sunglasses for Louis Vuitton. Before her, Takashi Murakami had a seven-year long collaboration with LV to create iconic collections like 'monogramouflage' across their bags and other accessories.
Absolut's association with artists like Andy Warhol (remember those famous print ads leveraging the iconic bottle shape?) Damien Hirst and Keith Haring completely redefined the premium vodka landscape, as Absolut became synonymous with art, culture and nightlife. And who can forget their association with Swedish House Mafia to create the Greyhound music video? Closer home, they commissioned an 'Absolut India' art exhibit using sounds of India, at the India Art fair.
Other brands like Uniqlo and Gap have tied up with art museums like MOMA and the Whitney Museum to create limited edition tees with contemporary artists' work and Red Bull of course took the cake and opened up a full-fledged new business - a media house, collaborating with artists, film makers and musiciansto create fresh content. And not only for their own brand.
Once back from the Biennale, I spoke with Krishnamachari Bose (co-founder of the Kochi Biennale), Manju Sara Rajan (CEO, Kochi Biennale Foundation), and a dear artist friend of mine Dhruvi Acharya, on the possibilityof the Kochi Biennale providing a platform in India where brands and artists could collaborate. Without stepping on each other's toes.
Here is my personal take.
Whilst a lot of corporate brands do admittedly get involved in such events as part of their CSR duties (BMW, HCL Technologies, Tata Trust, Google, TVS, Merck, JSW, Apollo were some of the patrons at the biennale this year), not many are perhaps seeing opportunities beyond generous sponsorships and logo mentions on festival material. Of creating fresh, path-breaking content/talking points for their brands on such a fertile platform (but executing it subtly, of course).
Perhaps driven by habit, while looking at the exhibits, I couldn't help but connect some of them with brands (obviously one would have had to go through the rigour of appropriate brand messaging for each, but for now, this is just a hypothesis).
Yet, the only brand that built great content for itself at this biennale, in a very subtle yet elegant way (there is no other way to do this at shows like this, and thank God for that), was Asian Paints. A unique collaboration between Asian Paints and the folks at Kochi-Muziris Biennale resulted in creating a 'Biennale White', a shade of white which was used to paint all the buildings hosting the exhibits in Kochi. Easy, effortless and an apt association. Now that's how you do it.
With a full festival ticket costing a mere Rs.100 and allowing access to all the venues across the city, the Kochi Biennale indeed is doing a great job of democratising art. Given that the event hosted around 6,00,000 visitors this year, across different strata of society (SEC A, B, C and hell, D too), I couldn't help thinking if indeed this was a missed opportunity for brands, for some awesome content creation.
I hope creative directors, designers and brand managers are listening. Will you be flocking to the next biennale in December 2018? More importantly, who's your artist on board? And how interestingly is she building your brand? For the future.
You got 20 months. And your time starts now.
(The author is founder and creative director, Tomorrow Creative Lab)