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Kochi-Muziris Biennale Drops Inquiry Into Allegation of Sexual Misconduct Against Cofounder

The 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

COURTESY KOCHI-MUZIRIS BIENNALE

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India has dropped an investigation into an allegation of sexual harassment against its cofounder, Riyas Komu, who had been accused of forcibly kissing and groping one person. In a statement, the biennial said the decision had come following a meeting between its trustees and Lizzie Jacob, the chair of the International Complaints Committee and a member of the biennial’s board. Komu will now be allowed to resume his former position at the biennial.

“Since no complaint was forthcoming after pursuing the matter for several weeks, the ICC recommended the dropping of the inquiry suggested by the Foundation,” the biennial said in a statement. “This recommendation has been examined and has been accepted by the board of trustees.”

The allegations against Komu had been made public in October by Scene & Herd, an Instagram account devoted to posting accusations of sexual harassment involving members of the Indian art world. (The account has also posted stories of alleged misconduct by artist Subodh Gupta and Gaurav Bhatia, the managing director of Sotheby’s India.) After the allegations were posted, Komu apologized and stepped down from his position as secretary at the biennial, writing in a statement, “I’m deeply upset that this incident has been understood and presented in this manner. However, as the person has expressed hurt, I would like to offer my apologies and I am opening myself to the possibility of a conversation.”

Komu’s resignation touched off further activism surrounding the biennial’s 2018 edition, which closed on Thursday. In December, a group of artists and curators interrupted a Guerrilla Girls performance-lecture at the exhibition and read a statement about the administration’s complicity in forms of misconduct. Later that month, more than 270 artists, curators, and art workers signed an open letter about sexual harassment in the South Asian art world; the letter reads, in part, “We respect the truth and stand in solidarity with those who come out with their stories.”

The controversy surrounding Komu’s position at the biennial is not the only one this edition has weathered. Earlier this month, an Instagram account called @justicefrombiennale18_19 circulated allegations that the biennial owes contractors who helped build one of the exhibition’s venues around $170,000 in unpaid fees. The biennial called such claims a “disinformation campaign” in a statement.

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