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    Chennai Photo Biennale

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    A photography festival held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, since 2016, the Chennai Photo Biennale (CPB) is the city’s first large-scale event dedicated to lens-based and allied practices. Conceptualised by the CPB Foundation, one of the key aims of the Biennale is to make Chennai a photography hub and to transform its artistic landscape by creating inclusive maker and exhibitionary space and encouraging sustained dialogue within and beyond the creative community. The scope of the Biennale includes mounted exhibitions, workshops, projected displays, talks, symposia, film screenings and video art, hosted in various venues across the city. Partially funded by the Chennai branch of the German nonprofit cultural organisation, Goethe-Institut, the Biennale is also supported by donations and in-kind contributions by arts organisations, corporate bodies and media outlets. The first two editions of the CPB were held in 2016 and 2019, while the third was originally scheduled for late 2020 but was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The inaugural edition was held from 26 February to 13 March, 2016 in over nine venues, some of which were the Light House Station (on the city’s mass transit system, MRTS), Nageshwara Rao Park, and arts spaces such as Alliance Française de Madras and Spaces in Besant Nagar. Notable photographers who participated in this edition include Ravi Agarwal, Munem Wasif, Suresh Punjabi, Raghu Rai, Yannick Cormier and Angélica Dass. This first edition served to initiate an exploration of environmental, social and cultural concerns through critical practices that engaged with both contemporary narrative and historical archives.

    The second edition of the Biennale that took place from February 22 to March 24, 2019, was largely crowd-funded and aided in its organisation and conduct by media collaborations. This edition was curated by performance artist Pushpamala N in the theme Fauna of Mirrors. Derived from a Chinese myth that refers to a world of unearthly creatures residing on the other side of all reflective surfaces, the theme was as a metaphor for the imaginative possibilities of photography and a cue for the issues of fake news and the increasing unreliability of the photographic image. The edition saw over fifty artists from thirteen countries participating, and it included among its participants students from educational institutions such as National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and local collaborative practices such as Studio CAMP. Exhibits were spread across several venues, notably heritage sites such as the nineteenth-century Senate House and Government College of Fine Arts, the Government Museum, Madras Literary Society, and areas of heavy foot traffic such as public transport stations. Events included public workshops that covered a diverse set of subjects, from Van Dyke brown printing to smartphone photography and the capstone two-day international conference on photography called Light Writing, held at the Egmore Museum Theatre. Notable participants in this edition include Atul Bhalla, Cop Shiva, Dayanita Singh, Desire Machine Collective, Gauri Gill, Indu Antony, Nalini Malani, Navjot Altaf, P Sainath, Pablo Bartholomew, Raqs Media Collective, Sheba Chhachhi, Vivan Sundaram and Kader Attia, Naeem Mohaiemen, Shadi Ghadirian and Chan Hyo Bae.

    The third edition of the CPB, delayed by a year, will bear the theme Maps of Disquiet, and will be curated by four practitioners from different disciplines — Bhooma Padmanabhan, Arko Datto, Boaz Levin and Kerstin Meincke. The distinct approaches brought by each of the curators is meant to reflect the larger aim of expanding the subjective and practical scope of the Biennale. The broad critical concerns of the edition are eroded public commons, state surveillance and majoritarian politics, as framed within a cartographic metaphor that alludes to Chennai being the first site of colonial mapping projects such as the Great Trigonometrical Survey of 1802. As of writing, the list of participants includes Rohini Devasher, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Saranraj, Siva Sai Jeevanantham, Soumya Shankar Bose and Vasudha Thozhur, Hito Steyerl, Katrin Koenning and Andreas Langfeld.


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