Spice city's rising art scene

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A mural at the Kochi Spice Market. The center of the world’s spice trade has seen a wave of artistic activity.
A mural at the Kochi Spice Market. The center of the world’s spice trade has seen a wave of artistic activity. Photo Credit: Anne Majumdar

"God is an artist, not an engineer," a brightly colored mural proclaims from its position on a crumbling Kochi wall crusted with mildew. It is just one of many vibrant artworks splashed across the aging bricks of the spice-soaked city, the commercial capital of the tropical Indian state of Kerala.

Just like the elegant arcs of the distinctive Chinese fishing nets cast in the waters of the Arabian Sea that surround it, Kochi is a city enmeshed within history. But a new wave of artistic activity is turning the Keralan capital, the center of the world's spice trade for hundreds of years, into a forward-looking metropolis.

In 2012, the city hosted its first Biennale, modeled on the Venice festival of the same name. This year's event, curated by Jitish Kallat, will once again attract artists, both homegrown and from farther afield, to create art installations among the city's historical streets when it returns in December.

The festival is a sign of Kochi's rising artistic prowess, as displayed across its impressive range of more than 20 art spaces from the renowned Kashi Art Gallery to the Kerala Arts Gallery. And the trendy rebirth is not restricted to its art scene; it's also informing the city's hotel offerings.

After a whistle-stop tour of Kochi's main tourist sights by autorickshaw, we settled in for the night at CGH Earth's Eight Bastion property, set within a period building in the city's historical Dutch quarter but embellished with contemporary touches. Its sister property, Brunton Boatyard, is set on the water in a former Victorian shipbuilding yard. Its restaurant is considered one of Kochi's top dining spots.

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