The railway stations of Chennai have played the role of canvas more than once. Few in the city today are surprised when they pass vibrant murals instead of hitherto spit-stained station walls during their daily commute. But this was more of a rarity before 2012, when photographer Varun Gupta came into the picture.
Even before he joined hands with Goethe Institut’s Helmut Schippert to ideate about what is now the Chennai Photo Biennale, Varun had made his mark with the Art Chennai project. Fresh with the experience of art in public spaces, for the public to consume, at festivals in Venice, Italy and Arles, France, Varun used the Thiruvanmiyur station as a platform to showcase art that was well received by the people of Chennai. This year, the Chennai Photo Biennale is taking that vision ahead, allotting three of the country’s leading design colleges a railway station each, as their space of display.
“The students of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, will be showcasing their designs at Kasturba Nagar MRTS station. A team from Bengaluru-based Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology will be taking over Chintadripet station. And students of NIFT, Chennai will be putting up their display at Thiruvanmiyur station,” says Shuchi Kapoor, founding member of the Biennale.
“In the previous — and first — edition, we had held a residency for artists both in India and abroad. Their art, centred around water issues, had been displayed at Light House station. This time, we reached out to organisations to train students instead.” The broader idea behind the Biennale, she clarifies, is to provide a platform to photographers across the spectrum. “Chennai is known for, and usually associated with the more traditional art forms and performing arts. But there is also a huge community of photographers, not just in Chennai but across Tamil Nadu.”
Shuchi is managing institutional partnerships at the Biennale, coordinating with consulates and institutes like the three mentioned above. “Southern Railway has been working with us from our very first edition,” says Shuchi, “We have also been given permission for Chennai Central station, but we might not be putting up displays there.”
Their reason for focusing on MRTS stations instead is simple: the abundance of space, just waiting to be utilised creatively. “We want the students’ works to be in large formats,” states Shuchi, “MRTS stations have humongous spaces, including free, blank walls.”
She adds that the students of Srishti School of Art are being mentored by two international artists for this project. “So there will be two different displays at their venue, on different dates. Needless to say, their work will be highlighting different relevant issues of the day, and everyone can just walk up to see it,” signs off Shuchi.
The Chennai Photo Biennale will be held from February 22 to March 24, at a range of venues spread across the city. The displays are open to the public. For details, visit http://chennaiphoto biennale.com.
Article source: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/check-out-these-offbeat-galleries/article26248373.ece