Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018: Will anon artist Guess Who make an appearance again?

I ended my last blog post with a bit of a riddle. The street art I documented in the last post, most of it seemed like commissioned work. Visually brilliant that it was, it still missed that edginess one generally associates with street art. While walking the streets of Kochi, I also came across this artwork which was a bit quirky, political in its messaging and not too elaborate.

The tag read “Guess Who”.

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The striking aspect of this stencil art was the mashups of popular international figures with Indian everyman/everywoman. For instance, the smiling face of Colonel Sanders pasted on a daily wage labourer sitting on the ground in dhoti and chappals or Mona Lisa’s face on the body of a typical Indian village girl carrying a pot of water.

The artwork, which did not have these kind of mashups, was mostly accompanied by some witty prose.

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First I thought it may be some local artist, who is renowned for these cheeky artworks. But spotting Guess Who artwork isn’t that easy, like it wasn’t at the best of Kochi locations to sport artwork. It was mostly to be seen on walls in tiny lanes or plastered on the sidewalk which was filled with advertisement posters.

This made me wonder, if this was one of those genuine street artists who stamp the city with their artwork for no money, but to make a statement?

Sure enough, a Google search online revealed interesting aspects of Guess Who. The artists’ work apparently started showing up around the time of the 2014 Kochi Muziris Biennale, the first of its kind to be held in India. Guess Who’s artwork was a protest against what he/she thought to be an elite art festival. There even was a map of Fort Kochi dotted with Guess Who artwork.

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Some of Guess Who’s earlier works involved pasteups, which of course because of their very nature must have been taken down or painted over. I didn’t see a lot of the works which I later discovered online. Some of those that survived, seem to be on their last leg. The stencil work though did pop up with some cheeky messaging on the side. I would assume that was the more recent work.

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With the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018 all set to begin from 12 December and go all the way up to March 2019, will Guess Who strike again? Will it be that much more difficult to spot new Guess Who artworks, now that it is a well known fact that one of the motivations behind the artworks was to protest against the Biennale? Will the Biennale let him be, knowing that the artist started his/her documentation on the walls of Kochi, to send a message to the organisers of the Biennale?

We shall find out in the coming days.

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Street Art in Fort Kochi: 12 murals that had me impressed

Earlier this year, I took off to Kochi, my maiden visit to ‘God’s own country’. I hadn’t done much research on Kochi, and wanted the place to surprise me. The only visual I had in mind were the 14th century Chinese fishing nets that have become a symbol of Kochi, and that was one of the primary reasons I decided to pick this location. That, and the fact I had never set foot in Kerala.

On my first stroll around Fort Kochi, I knew that this place was filled with street art gems that would have to be discovered over the next four days that I was here. The approach to my hostel was via this road which was walled off on both sides and had old trees providing the canopy. The white-washed walls were painted with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 ads. I had read about this Biennale, the first of its kind to have happened in India from 2012 onwards, but couldn’t recall much.

As I walked around Kochi, the walls started rewarding me with views of the artwork around this old town which is a melting pot of cultures. Towards the end of this year, from 12 Dec 2018 to 29 March 2018, will be the next edition of the Biennale. Street art by its very nature being very ephemeral, some of the art murals in this blog may not exist in a couple of months.

Here are some of the murals that impressed me. The art works showcased local portraits, concept works, hand-painted art exhibition advertisements and more.





There are some portraits, presumably of famous locals, strewn all over Fort Kochi. Accompanied by Malayalam text (which I could not understand). The works seem to be part of a street art project.



Mattancherry is the spice market district inside Fort Kochi, and walking along here the fragrance of the spices is almost like a perfume. Inside Mattancherry there are a few art galleries as well. But on the way there, I noticed advertisements of art exhibits, which were hand painted paste-up works. There was a very Zine feel to them.


But when in Kerala, it would be a pity, if you don’t dig out a street mural paying tribute to one of its local superstars — Mammotty! Engage in a conversation with locals on the Mammotty vs Mohanlal (the other superstar) debate, and watch in fascination how fans defend their favourite and take down the other.

All the art work shared here, most of it at least, seems to have been commissioned. But what’s street art if there is no element of rebellion involved? Fort Kochi was plastered with art work which fulfilled that gap as well. I shall talk about it in a future post.

Till then, keep guessing who I am talking about.