An exhibition organised every three years by the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Art since 1968, Triennale India was conceived by the art historian and writer Mulk Raj Anand during his tenure as the director of the Akademi. While its organisation has come to be seen as a bureaucratic function of the Akademi, the triennale was a flashpoint of debates during the 1960s and 1970s.
The event was part of a general trend in post-Independence India towards modernity in political, economic, social and cultural development. It was held around the time of the French protests of May 1968, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the decolonisation of multiple countries in Asia and Africa. It was also inspired by the third world internationalism of the Bandung Conference of 1955, which had laid the foundations for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Similarly, the triennale sought to create a space for art beyond the Western Bloc led by the US and the Eastern Bloc led by the USSR, aiming to elevate the politics of art in newly independent nations. It was also meant to nurture fellowship and solidarity, and enable cultural diplomacy between these nations.
The first edition of the triennale, organised in 1968, exhibited 609 works of art from 31 countries. Subsequent editions in the 1970s failed to generate this degree of engagement, and were met with protest and controversy. The trienniale’s programme was accused of being undemocratically conceived, of having a limited approach to internationalism, and of serving the interests of the global art market through government channels. Among the prominent critics of the triennale through these years were Vivan Sundaram, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Geeta Kapur and Jagdish Swaminathan.
Later editions of the trienniale were less controversial, and it eventually became a routine part of the Lalit Kala Akademi’s programmes. Organised every three years, the festival now seeks to represent the changing contemporary landscape of arts within and outside the country. It receives participation from around 40 countries, and has an international jury that adjudicates prizes on best works of art.
Adajania, Nancy. “Globalist Before Globalisation: The Ambivalent Fate of Triennale India.” Western Artists and India: Creative Inspirations in Art and Design, edited by Shanay Jhaveri. Mumbai: The Shoestring Publisher, 2013. Accessed May 19, 2022. https://www.academia.edu/7818709/Nancy_Adajania_Globalism_Before_Globalisation_The_Ambivalent_Fate_of_Triennale_India
“Lalit Kala Akademi (National Academy of Arts).” Biennial Foundation. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://biennialfoundation.org/biennials/triennale%E2%80%93india/
“Triennale.” Lalit Kala Akademi. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://lalitkala.gov.in/showdetails.php?id=107