Perhaps now is the appropriate time to make a list – or a league of cities which hold biennales. Like the United States of America, United Cities of Biennales can be established with Venice its centre, and the rest spread around the globe; because today there is no continent that does not hold one or more than one biennales.
In the recent past one has read about or participated in national exhibitions. Long awaited shows; inclusion in these events distinguished you and established you as important professionals. Each country held these annual shows, but with the frail/failing idea of nation-state, the institution of national exhibition has become an obsolete concept. Obviously. Because we have witnessed strong federations – like USSR or Yugoslavia disintegrate into several small states; or countries such as Sudan, Pakistan, Czechoslovakia, Indonesia spilt into separate countries in the last fifty years. Likewise, some nations merged (North Vietnam/South Vietnam, East Germany/West Germany) to form one country. And several other parts/provinces in the world are seeking their independent status, like Kurdistan, Kashmir, Catalonia, Scotland etc.
In this scenario cities seem more stable than countries, because no matter if Dhaka was in India, Pakistan or now in Bangladesh, Dhaka continued to be Dhaka. That’s why the identity of city is more reliable than a country. Also, the idea of biennale, if on the one hand recognizes this fact, at the same instance it acknowledges the new reality of globalization, in which trade of goods, information, customs and practices is held across national borders. So, like the biennale held in one city in which various nations participate, a man or a woman’s daily attire is a mini – or miniature biennale, with sunglasses from Japan, perfume from France, shirt from Romania, trousers from USA, watch from Switzerland, shoes from UK, tie from Italy, socks from Sweden, handkerchief from Hungry, vest from Pakistan, underwear from India, cufflinks from China and hat from Panama.
Traditionally biennale used to include art invited on the basis of different (and differences) of countries – like Venice Biennale, Sau Paulo Biennale, Havana Biennale – but recently that distinction or demarcation has been diffused, since biennales are now curated with individual artists – on the basis of works rather on their passports. This trait is the sign of how art is transforming, focusing more on individuals rather than on their national identities/connections. Art Now Pakistan in its current issue brings forth this aspect, especially prior to Karachi Biennale and Lahore Biennale. The profile section shares thoughts, strategies and plan of Amin Gulgee, the curator of Karachi Biennale. The issue also includes two essays dealing with the concept of biennale at large, in the local, international and historic contexts.
Biennales, in their nature are about crossing boundaries, bridging borders and bringing people close to each other, and the book reviewed for this month is about the history of interaction between East and West. The book reveals how India and other countries collaborated on various projects, because whether it is biennale, triennial or any other exhibition, such as Documenta, art is about connecting with each other and establishing links, across Time and beyond Place.