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Students’ Biennale Opens; Features 100 Artist Projects

Kochi: The third edition of Students’ Biennale involving a multilateral approach opened for the public today, featuring an exhibition, an expanded education forum and field-based research on the condition of art education.

Organised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, the Students’ Biennale, principally supported by the Tata Trusts like it was in 2014 and ’16, exhibits work of over 200 students from across the country and also some neighbouring countries. Spread across seven venues in the twin towns of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi, the project is led by a team of six curators.

An opening ceremony of the programme at Cabral Yard pavilion on Thursday was addressed by Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. The others at the function were art historian Geeta Kapur, Deepika Sorabjee of Tata Trusts, Lauren Lovelace of the American Consulate in Chennai, Shukla Sawant, one of the curators of Students’ Biennale, and Vidya Shivadas of the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art.

Speaking on the occasion, Krishnamachari said, art education has been one of the principal mandates of the Foundation. In the last two editions, Students’ Biennale featured around 60 art colleges in the country, he recalled.

Launched first in 2014, the Students’ Biennale is an educational initiative that provides a platform for BFA and MFA students to produce exhibit and reflect on their works on an international platform.

This time, the students are grouped under the leadership of each curator themed around ‘Making as Thinking’. In an attempt to reach out to a larger pool of emerging artists, the Students’ Biennale, for the first time, also showcases works by students from SAARC nations. As many as 27 participants from Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are putting up 10 projects in total.

The works have been selected from 1,500 entries the Foundation received this year. “We have also been able to give the students an increased production grant this year,” Krishnamachari added.

Like in 2016, this edition will give away the Tata Trusts Students’ Biennale International and National Awards to curator(s) and student(s). They will be selected by a jury towards the close of the Biennale in March next year. Tata Trusts is also supporting the Video Lab of the Kochi Biennale Foundation that documents the Biennale and ancillary activities. These can be seen on the KBF website and YouTube page, making it a growing archive of talks, interviews, site visits and exhibition venues.

Sorabjee, who heads Arts & Culture at Tata Trusts, said the Students’ Biennale provides artists international exposure and attune them to the global art scene. “It seeks to incrementally address the challenges faced in art pedagogy,” she added. “Thus, in time, we build a case for changes in current art curricula and practices.”

The Students’ Biennale venues are Mohammed Ali Warehouse, Kishore Spices, KVN arcade, Armaan Building, Coir building Mattancherry Temple and VKL, Mattancherry. The curators, besides Sawant (JNU Delhi), are Sanchayan Ghosh (Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan), independent curator Shruti Ramalingaiah and artists Krishnapriya C P, K P Reji and M P Nishad.

“Each institution from which students have been selected has its own academic framework,” says Sawant, who has been involved with the initiative since its inception in 2014. “Some remain attached to remnants of a colonial-era pedagogy, while others have developed complex engagements with local exigencies and alternative frameworks that emerged from an internationalist engagement. Within this matrix, each project carries local and contextual layers.”

Nishad notes the projects are also an attempt to expand beyond studio practice, into a reflection of art as a political act of meaning-making, embedded in the working of materials.  “The works of participating student artists are mostly informed by local concerns and quote physical sites through critical engagement with materials,” he adds.

Some of the topics explored by this year’s participating student-artists include violence against women, rapid globalisation and exploitation of nature. A group of student from the Aligarh Muslim University is presenting a work titled ‘Scream’ based on Kathua rape, team of artists from Manipur will present installations that exhibit their state’s culture while a student from Chennai is showcasing a map created with materials collected from various part of Chennai, the artwork is a true representation of the city.

One of the key initiatives of this year’s Students’ Biennale is the Expanded Education Programme, which has nine national and international artist-educators offering a series of curriculum-based interventions through workshops at select art colleges in India.

The workshops, focusing on art history, technology, critical theory, public art, architecture and curation, support younger artists in undertaking process-oriented and practice-based learning. The educators, being further supported by a team of researchers, include B V Suresh, Kausik Mukhopadhyay, Mriganka Madhukaillya, Santhosh Sadanandan, Sarada Natarajan, Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan, Federica Martini, Igal Myrtenbaum and Rangoato Hlasane.

The Students’ Biennale is being held in association with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and Foundation for Indian Art Education as well. Here is the entire list of participating artists.

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