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“Fauna of Mirrors”: A Selection from the Second Edition of Chennai Photo Biennale
I recently discovered Chennai Photo Biennale, India’s largest photography event showcasing both Indian and international artists, the second edition of which ran from February 22 to March 24, 2019. Co-organised by the Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation, a non-profit trust, and Goethe-Institut Chennai, the exhibitions were held at some of the most architecturally beautiful venues in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, south India, including Senate House – the University of Madras, Government College of Fine Arts, Government Museum, Madras Literary Society, Southern Railway: Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS), Cholamandal Artists’ Village and Art Houz Gallery.
The Biennale was directed by Bangalore-based Pushpamala N.. Often known as “the most entertaining artist-iconoclast of contemporary Indian art”, she is one of the pioneers of conceptual art in India and a renowned photo and video-performance artist, sculptor, writer, curator and provocateur. She is known especially for her sharp feminist work, her rejection of authenticity and embracing of multiple realities. In her collaborations with writers, theatre directors and filmmakers, she seeks to subvert the dominant discourse.
Each venue included a theme of its own under the larger theme of the Biennale titled “Fauna of Mirrors”, whereby the artistic director explored the old Chinese myth that talks about an alternate universe that exists behind the mirror to see if the practice of photography is a reflection of modern life, creating a parallel world of images. The curatorial concept used the ancient fable to ruminate in a philosophical and poetic way around photography today.
The other individual titles of some of the key venues included, “An Unbearable Lightness of Being” – a sense of dystopia, unease, maybe even giggly laughter, hysteria, melancholy, or even pictures of unnoticed; “The Face of Another” – where faces and bodies may transmogrify into other things, or stare at you boldly; “Fractured” – where broken up and incomplete images communicate in a loose and ever-changing universe; “Hidden Lily: Social Weavers” – where storytelling with images and live performance tells the stories of handloom weavers; “Labyrinths” – and the world is a complicated irregular network of images and texts in passages and paths; “The Library of Babel” – here there are innumerable old books and books within books and travelling libraries; “I Love Cinema” – it’s all about Cinephilia; “Why Look at Animals” – where camels, giraffes, elephants and innumerable creatures invade our world; “Material Evidence” – where faces and places are markers of histories.
Below are samples from a few of the photographers who exhibited: Arpan Mukherjee, Atul Bhalla, Cop Shiva, Gauri Gill, Indu Anthony, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Manjunath Kamath, Rabih Mroue and Vijay Jodha.
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