India’s largest photographic event
Preparations are underway for the Chennai Photo Biennale 2019 (CPB), which will be the second edition of India’s largest photographic event. The event will run from 22nd February to 24th March, taking the form of large-scale exhibitions in a variety of public spaces. Prints of work by over 50 artists, hailing from 13 countries, will be displayed across the city of Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, along with the southwest of the subcontinent. The Biennale aims to engage and enrich diverse communities and encourage viewing photography in a more democratic and accessible way. By energizing venues all over Chennai – from train stations on the Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System to government buildings – the Biennale hopes to enhance the cultural offering of the city to residents and visitors alike.
Participating Indian artists, institutions, and collectives set to display their work at the Biennale include Archana Hande, Arpan Mukherjee, Desire Machine Collective, Gauri Gill, Nalini Malani, Nandini Valli Muthiah, National Institute of Design Gandhinagar, National Institute of Fashion Technology Chennai, Navjot Altaf, Raqs Media Collective, Sheba Chhachhi and Sonia Jabbar, and the Srishti School Of Art, Design And Technology. Some of the featured international artists include some sparkling headliners: British documentary photographer Anna Fox, French-Algerian writer and artist Kader Attia, Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian (Iran), and Australian photographer Tracey Moffatt.
The philosophy for this edition of the Biennale is Fauna of Mirrors. It is a reference to an old Chinese myth which speaks to the existence of an alternate universe that is present behind the mirror. Within this other world lies another dimension, home to unknown creatures and unknown possibilities. The Biennale is co-founded and co-organised by the non-profit trust CPB Foundation and the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai, has chosen renowned sculptor and photo performance artist, Pushpamala N. as the Artistic Director for the second edition.
Pushapamala is a pioneer of conceptual art in India, who began her artistic career in the ’90s through narrative sculpture work. The Bangalore-based artist is now regarded as one of the foremost iconoclasts of contemporary Indian art, known for her fiercely feminist work that rejects authenticity and embraces the notion of multiple realities, working through the mediums of sculpture, writing, photography, and curation. She intends to the use the myth theme to understand if the art of photography is a reflection of modern life today by creating a parallel world of images, finding the alien in every day and vice versa. She thus hopes to use the ancient fable to ruminate on the philosophy and poeticism of photography in the modern age.
Alongside the exhibitions, the Biennale will include an extensive programme of artist talks, workshops, films, projections, residencies, skill development initiatives in photography and much more. Additionally, International Photography Conference will also form part of its programme, from the 16th to the 17th of March. This will be the first of its kind in India and is open to all. The title of the conference is ‘Light Writing: The Photographic Image Reloaded’ and it is supported by the Shergil-Sundaram Arts Foundation and presented by Savera. The conference entails the presentation of papers relating to the state of photography today by a myriad of artists, curators, and scholars alike – speakers include Nigerian contemporary artist Emeka Okereke, Singaporean writer, artist, and curator Zhuang Wubin, and Indian academic Y. S. Alone.
In its second edition, a key initiative that the Biennale wished to undertake was to work with students at an early stage of learning; further evidence of their commitment to democratising art, its practice, and its enjoyment. The CPB Education Program was launched in November 2018 and has run iPhone photo camps in schools across Chennai with 265 students (ages 10-16). These workshops with students will also continue after the Biennale. An advanced residential photography workshop with 25 selected students was conducted between 1st and 3rd February 2019 and the resulting works will be showcased at the Biennale in an effort that is a testimony to the dynamic energy of the upcoming event that champions inclusivity.
Zahra Abba Omar