The Venice Questionnaire: Roobina Karode

The curator of the returning India Pavilion on revisiting the legacy of Gandhi

Shakuntala Kulkarni, Bodies Armour, 2010–12, photo performance at the Asiatic Society Library, Mumbai. Courtesy the artist

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists exhibiting in the various national pavilions of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening on 11 May.

Roobina Karode is the director and chief curator of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, and curator of the India Pavilion, which will feature work by Nandalal Bose, Atul Dodiya, GR Iranna, Rummana Hussain, Jitish Kallat, Shakuntala Kulkarni and Ashim Purkayastha. The pavilion is in the Arsenale.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

The India Pavilion’s exhibition Our Time For A Future Caring will explore the theme of ‘150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’, bringing together some amazing contemporary artworks on the global platform of the Venice Biennale. It will revisit through diverse art forms the indelible memory of Gandhi, and his many facets that continue to inspire, provoke and challenge the public, intellectuals and artists alike. The subtlest evocation of Gandhi, in terms of his pronounced values and his persistent provocations to rethink our complex world, I believe, will make for a compelling pavilion in this day and age.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?

Of course, it is an honour to represent one’s country. The national pavilion continues to be a contested and a problematic format, with the pressing issue of representing an entire country and their rich artistic output. And yet the format is unique; each pavilion is independent yet aligned, bound spatially, in proximity to each other, reflecting on contemporary art and on the world. In setting the curatorial narrative of this edition of India Pavilion, we have been inspired by this aspect of the Venice Biennale.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?

Our own contemporary consciousness about art is growing globally, and an event like the Venice Biennale will be consumed by millions on social media platforms, as well as by visitors to the exhibition. Our participation has not come a minute too soon and will hopefully continue hereafter [India’s first participation to the Biennale was in 2011, only followed up in 2015 by a joint pavilion with Pakistan]. It will bring greater visibility to the artistic talent in India and the comprehension of its diverse, multivalent practice.

If you’ve been to the biennale before, what’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

Venice has the oldest Biennale and is still going strong with record-breaking visitors coming into Venice during the time of the Biennale. I have seen some incredible works here and enjoyed them.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

I am looking forward to the visual feast and the extensive range of art at the Biennale this year. I am intrigued by Ralph Rugoff’s exhibition title and am excited to see what he will be presenting, especially considering the substantial inclusion of paintings. 

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November 2019