Published: 16th December 2018
Kochi Biennale: Why you need to check out these amazing student art installations
The Students' Biennale aims to alter the way in which art education programmes work
The Kochi Muziris Biennale is back. Once again, you can see oblivious artists clutching dripping paint cans making their way across the city streets. Art enthusiasts line the streets, their mouths agape and wondering how they would possibly take it all in. Art is quite literally in the air. This fourth year around, the Biennale has come back with the intention of fulfilling a few promises to the youngest of art enthusiasts. The Students' Biennale was inaugurated on December 13 at Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi and it might be the most dedicated art programme of our time.
Established in 2014, the Student's Biennale is an exhibitory platform for students which runs in parallel to the larger Biennale. Created in association with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and the Foundation for Indian Art and Education (FIAE), the programme ropes in students from art colleges in South Asia and offers them the opportunity to hone their skills and share their art with the world. This year, the Students’ Biennale hopes to work through a multilateral approach which will include exhibitions by the student artists, an expanded education forum and field-based research on art education across the country.
Art space: 112 students have been chosen for the programme
This year, 112 students have been chosen from far and wide to let their creativity run wild. Six members of the Biennale's curatorial team have been working closely with them for the past 6 months to mentor them and put an exhibition together. "If you look at Indian institutions, they still follow this idea of art which has a particular structure and such art education is often limited to certain privileged pockets like the metros and our big cities. So we wanted to reach out to new cities, create more centres and develop the art education there," explains one of the curators and mentors, KP Reggie.
This year, the students will be awarded a grant of Rs 25,000 to the students to produce their work. "You can find huge venues and works of art that the students have created themselves," he says. "So the ambition is sorted for them, it's just a matter of gathering the courage to create what is close to their heart. They don't have to depend on someone else, they can fulfil their wishes to their heart's content. A lot has changed this year. The venues are getting bigger, it is getting much closer to what we want for these students."
The biennale can help a lot of students in that sense. There are many students who hail from rural areas and small cities who have come to Kochi and have formed a huge part of this journey. They get the opportunity to interact with so many artists and get to see art being formed from the moment of the idea taking root to its final presentation. So it will help them develop their own styles of art
KP Reggie, Curator
The programme took great care to spread their search for the brightest artistic minds to every corner of the country they could traverse. Reggie explains, "There are many small institutions across India where they don't have the basic facilities or art activities to promote the inherent skills of these students. There is only the resolute minds that the students possess. So they don't have any mechanisms in place to support them. This is a time when Kochi is teeming with great artists and great minds. Being here right now will really change the way they work. They can take back something that they can share with fellow artists back home and they can even change the way in which art is taught by daring to be different themselves. And this is happening on a lot of different frequencies."
An issue that the team face in the previous year was that the students were selected one year prior to the Biennale. So, the academic year had concluded by the time they participated and they had stepped out of their respective institutions. Curator Sanchayan Ghosh explains, "What we did differently this time was that we selected students who are currently in school and pursuing their studies. That is why we got a smaller number of students. What is different is that the students will go back to it. This will change a lot because this experience will change them and they can take it back with them to share among their peers.
Colour coded: The students are mentored by 6 curators
On this Thursday afternoon, Cabral Yard was teeming with young talent. A small table was set with lunch and beverages. Students laugh excitedly conversing with their peers and curators alike. Are they ready for what the Biennale has to offer? Something I found really interesting this time around is that the students did not react as artists from the institutes. Suddenly here, in their own space, they seem to have almost discovered the power of their own work and the weight that comes with the tag of an artist. That whole orientation of taking their selves and their own work seriously has definitely shown through," explains Ghosh.
"The students are very excited about what they are a part of," says Nishad in between gathering up students and packing them off to various venues. "In Kalady, we held a workshop, it was an attempt to introduce technology into art where it may not be understood. Some students came to us afterwards and we introduced them to various devices and how they can help heighten your artwork. It was wonderful to see them discover something new. Rather than seeing everything objectively, we want them to see multitudes through their eyes. In another workshop in Bengaluru, we introduced students to a whole world of fantasy and the anaesthetic state of the mind. We want them to learn about how you can dream up your art. The hearing and seeing is just half of it."
For the students, it has been a few months of surreal change. We've never gotten an entire period where we we could let our imagination run this wild, a group of students tell me. "They are free to be themselves here," says Nishad. "We are trying to change focus from the idea that when you study painting, you become a painter. That isn't all there is to it. They have to come out of this with a lot to take back home." The students are raring to go. The question is, is the art world ready for them?
The question they must first ask themselves is how we can reinvent art. We want them to think about new alliances in their proposals like infusing philosophy and capturing a variety of thought processes through their work. We are reconstructing everything, including the material on which we work. It's very interesting stuff because we are watching art evolve in front of us
Nishad MP, Curator
Meet the students
The Student Biennale is spread across a variety of venues on the stretch between Fort Kochi to Mattancherry. Students stand alongside their elaborate sculptures and carefully crafted canvases as they greet an onslaught of visitors on the very first day. In an attempt to acquaint ourselves with what could be the future of the art world, we spoke to some of these young artists. Excerpts:
Imphal College of Art, Imphal, Manipur
Eleven young boys from Imphal College of Art stood with their arms folded, waiting for instructions from their mentor. In between the curious questioning of art enthusiasts, they managed to get talking about the idea behind their work. "It is a transformation of waste materials," says Jonathan Haominlal Haokip, a BSc final year student. "We collect some waste from various localities in Imphal and make them into some meaningful objects or figures. Then we relate it to our state, Manipur. This is how we represent our state."
Working together on the project, the students seem excited to let the world know about their creation. They got their ticket to the Biennale when an artist from Mumbai and four representatives from the Biennale visited their college to conduct a workshop. A few months later, they were asked to fly to Kochi and represent their institution. "Usually, we only focus on the basic idea of painting. After coming here, we got to learn so much. It's been a whole new experience and we are motivated to do something new every single day," says Anand Naoroibam, another member of their team.
"It's not just about painting or sculpting anymore, it's about a thousand different details that go along with it," says Jonathan. "Right now, we are taking our vision and focusing on elevating it. Everything has gained a new standard. We expect a good response from people." The team has been mesmerised through their conversations with. He says, "We are working with some amazing people and it has been amazing. We met people who do so much with art and we are learning so much from all this."
Osheen Gupta, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath
Osheen Gupta could not care less about what the establishment wants and her art concurs. Her work is centred aroung a mural practice from back in Bengaluru. It was inspired by a group of 40 artists who came together to paint walls celebrating the art of the city, commissioned by the BBMP. When a new government order was issued, the municipal body decided to whitewash the graffiti and all the heritage material that lived on the underpasses and stretches all over the city were at the risk of being erased.
This is where Osheen and her Gachi Gallis (The Scribblers) came into the picture. She explains, "Our team interrupted this process and we began to paint murals around it. We took pieces of chalk and outlined all these murals by ourselves and halted the BBMP's process." Osheen points to her work and says, "This is an enactment of my previous mural. It is about two men practicing Kalari Payattu. The piece is a juxtaposition on this male bulge that is poking out. It is called 'Camel Toe'. I just wanted to bring the memories form my mural making experience back into life."
Osheen swears by murals and their magic ability to capture attention. She says, "My proposal was about how you break out of the the confines of your studio and how it helps you to further your practice. My idea was to build a wall as a satire piece and paint a mural on it because in colleges we are given large canvases for mural making. Different things can happen when you work in a public space. In the original work, the place where the camel toe was at was not alien to public urination. Right at that spot where I painted, men would come and pee. It is profound that a raw space like that could have attracted so much activity around it. These were unforgivable experiences. I just wanted to bring that into focus and bring attention to that."
Stuti Jain, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda
The theme of the Student Biennale was 'Making as thinking' and Stuti Jain knew exactly how to bring that to life through her sculptures. "It is about how we are interacting with our own language under an institution how we are using what we learning," she says. "I wanted to represent the traditions that our lives revolve around and changing them or contemplating about it. I've used traditional sculpture techniques like busks and torsos, typical contra postal positions to do just that."
"From my personal experience, things like the geometric cubes and pottery represent perfection. It is all about symmetry," explains Stuti. " They represent an expectation or a pressure that is put on us to be perfect in all things. Things like the metal flowers are actually very delicate things, they are supposed to be beautiful, light and pretty. I have represented them through metal and brass which is really heavy and hard to lift. The sculptures are in fibre so they are light and the weight which is put on them of the flowers and the beauty is heavy."
Stuti's work represents the weight that society imposes on an individual. It is this need that we have, this invisible fist that is controlling us all the time," she says, with a glint of passion in her eyes. "You have to be pretty, well-spoken, educated and tick all of their boxes. It's not just about feminism, we all face this. It is automatic. You parents and society automatically say, you are doing this or you must do this. I've added objects on it which I feel represents the social stages right now," she concludes.
Alokananda Halder, College of Art and Design, Burdwan University, West Bengal
Alokananda Halder stands nervously behind a makeshift black tent. Sheer black shawls hang from the ceiling, the odd one blows across her face as she slowly counts the number of people gathering around her installation. In a flash, her face transforms and she begins. Dressed in black, she crawls across to the floor screaming and writhing in pain to make her way into a low hanging hammock where she she struggles to fall asleep. All the while she whispers the words 'fear' and 'pain' as a growing audience watched with collective awe.
After the performance, the panting 27-year-old remembers the first time she heard about performance art in her university. She wanted to incorporate her own ideas into the art form. Two workshops later, she came up with her brainchild. "It is about human pain," she says. "I'm trying to take on this misconception that women are safe at home. Our parents tell us not to go out and that there is a lot of danger out there. But they go without realising that a lot of this darkness actually comes from home."
The colour black represents a blind house. "Those people who have seen the outside world know the way in which it works. But those who are kept locked up at home are caught in a trap of their own," explains Alokananda. "I also want to focus on cultural practices where women are kept locked in during menstruation time. People need to know that it's a natural process." Inspired by her college and the teachers there, her dream is to make performance art more popular in India.