Published: 10th March 2019
Here's what the second edition of the Chennai Photo Biennale has to offer its audience
We check out the second edition of the Chennai Photo Biennale, while catching up with its founder and curator
When we caught up with visual artist Pushpamala N in a corridor inside the University of Madras, she got us hooked on to a story. Titled the ‘Fauna of Mirrors’, it is this ancient Chinese myth, about an alternate world ruled by a few unknown creatures. While they were amiable towards humans initially, in course of time, they turned hostile. Eventually, they got into a battle with the king, who defeated them and as a result, they were captured inside mirrors and were forced to imitate humans for the rest of their lives. Now you would wonder why Pushpamala would share this incredible story with us. That was because, ‘Fauna of Mirrors’ is the theme of this year’s Chennai Photo Biennale, which she has curated.
“Photographs are creating a parallel perspective for us. Sometimes they’re friendly and sometimes they turn around and attack us,” she says, justifying the theme. She also brings our attention to the menace of doctored images, celebrity porn and selfie deaths. “The world around us is surrounded by images. Because of this, some people think that there is no need for a special exhibition here. But I want everyone to look at how this can help us say different things and address different issues,” she adds.
A great start: The Biennale was inaugurated by Varun Gupta, Founder, Chennai Photo Biennale, Pushpamala N, Artistic Director and Helmut Schippert, Co-Founder and Director of Goethe-Institut
Pushpamala, who curated the entire biennale herself, says that the only difficulty she had to experience was the time constraint. “For the event in February, I had to invite the artists by July. I had to do my research before that. So, I had very little time,” she says. Not all photos were taken to fit the theme. There are photographs from the 1950s and 1960s too.
We also talk to Chennai-based photographer Varun Gupta, who is among the founders of the biennale. What inspired him to think of a photo fest this big, we wondered. He explains, “Years back when I moved to the city, I wanted to do something in the public realm. One such project was what I did in the Thiruvanmiyur MRTS in 2014. We conducted an exhibition in the station’s 13,000 sq ft area. Eventually, we wanted to do something bigger and that led us to the biennale,” he says.
As a photographer and artist, I have travelled to photo festivals and art biennales around the world and returned inspired by the quality of exhibits and the sense of community that these events foster. The Chennai Photo Biennale aims to establish a much-needed home for photography in India which brings together practitioners, allied arts, curators, gallerists and the general public to elevate the medium in the region
Varun Gupta, founder, Chennai Photo Biennale
Varun says that the founders’ aim is to achieve what the Kochi Muziris Biennale achieved in four years. But he is well aware of the roadblocks too. “Kochi has a great atmosphere of public space and people are more artistically inclined. Chennai embraces tradition and one has to fight the tide. We’re trying to put Chennai in the artscapes,” he says. Content with the way this edition of the Biennale turned out, Varun shows us the installations by photographer Atul Bhalla, displayed in the university’s Senate Hall. “How do you exhibit a photograph in a room with no wall?” he asks us. “That was the challenge we posed to Atul. Brilliantly, he displayed his work as installations, books and on sculptors,” he concludes.