Sheba Chhachhi and Sonia Jabbar, Detail from ‘ When the gun is raised, dialogue stops….’ women voices from the Kashmir valley , 2000/2005 Image Credit: Supplied

Showing works by more than 50 artists in print from 13 countries, the second edition of Chennai Photo Biennale — an international biennale of photography — will be held between February 22 and March 24. The south Indian city of Chennai will play host to large scale exhibitions in a variety of public spaces.

The biennale will also include an extensive programme of artist talks, workshops, films, projections, residencies, skill development in photography and much more.

Well-known sculptor and photo performance artist Pushpamala N. is the Artistic Director for the second edition of the biennale which was co-founded and co-organised by the CPB Foundation and the Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai. The theme for this edition is Fauna of Mirrors , an old Chinese myth that talks about an alternate universe that exists behind the mirror, another dimension which is home to unknown creatures and unknown worlds. Pushpamala N. explores the myth to see if the practice of photography is a reflection of modern life, creating a parallel world of images — familiar yet strange, perhaps friendly and intimate, sometimes mysterious and hostile — but always magical.

“The Chennai Photo Biennale seeks to expand the field of photography with a terrific array of photo-artists who use the language of photography to speak to the world. Set in important historical and contemporary venues across the city, the biennale will be a thought-provoking, spectacular and entertaining public festival,” says Pushpamala N.

Speaking about the biennale, the founder of Chennai Photo Biennale, Varun Gupta, said “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. 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.”

Armin Linke, Cinema screen , Guiyu, China, 2005

During the biennale, a two-day International Photography Conference will be held on March 16 - 17 at the Egmore Museum Theatre. Open to all, the title of the conference is Light Writing: The Photographic Image Reloaded. The conference will include a dynamic programme of artists, curators and scholars from different parts of the world who will present papers and discuss the state of photography today. Speakers include Ashwini Asokan (India), Diwas Raja KC (Nepal), Emeka Okereke (Nigeria), Kristoffer Gansing (Germany), M.K. Raghavendra (India), Rashmi Sawhney (India), P. Sainath (India), Sabeena Gadihoke (India), Satyajit Mayor (India), Shela Sheikh (UK), T. Shanaathanan (Sri Lanka), Y.S. Alone (India), Zhuang Wubin (Singapore).

In its second edition, a key initiative that the biennale wanted to undertake was to work with students at an early stage of learning. The CPB Education Program was launched in November 2018 and has run iPhone photo camps in schools across Chennai with 265 students (ages 10-16) which will also continue after the biennale. An advanced residential photography workshop with 25 selected students was conducted between February 1-3 and the resulting works will be showcased at the biennale.

The biennale aims to engage and enrich diverse communities and encourage viewing photography in a more democratic and accessible way. By energising venues all over Chennai, the biennale hopes to enhance the cultural offering of the city to residents and visitors alike. Locations include 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 with many of the exhibitions adapted to the exceptional architecture and ambience of the venues.

The biennale includes international artists, many of whom have been supported by Foreign Cultural institutions in India including the British Council, InKo Centre, Canadian Consulate, Institut Français, Japan Foundation and Pro-Helvetia Delhi.

“Goethe-Institut Chennai focuses on public art, bringing art to frequented and unexpected urban spaces, sharing ideas openly, initiating new conversations in the city for public impact. In a fast-growing metro like Chennai, in “Incredible India” that continues to be shaped by so many divides, this seems obvious. From the very start, there has been the vision to create a big and meaningful photography event accessible for everyone: Chennai Photo Biennale!,” said Helmut Schippert, Founder CPB and Director, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai

Participating Indian artists include 3rd Space Lab Collective, Aishwarya Arumbakkam, Akhila Vijayaraghavan, Amshu Chukki, Archana Hande, Arpan Mukherjee, Arun Vijai Mathavan, Atul Bhalla, Balaji Maheshwar, CAMP India, Cop Shiva, D. Ravinder Reddy, Dayanita Singh, Desire Machine Collective, Gauri Gill, Indu Antony, J.H. Thakker, Karthik Subramanian, Kowshik Vasudevan, Manjunath Kamath, Nalini Malani, among others.

Spme of the participating international artists are Angela Grauerholz (Canada) , Anna Fox (UK), Armin Linke (Germany), Catherine Leutenegger (Switzerland), Chan Hyo Bae (South Korea), Jason Shulman (UK), Kader Attia (France & Algeria), Liz Fernando (Germany), Manit Sriwanichpoom (Thailand), Munem Wasif (Bangladesh) ,

Naeem Mohaiemen (Bangladesh), Putu Sayoga (Indonesia) and Rabih Mroue (Lebanon).