With travel, music, art and technology already as his passions, Sethu fell in love with the Chennai Photo Biennale concept and immediately knew he wanted to be onboard the project.
“When the folks at CPB approached me and told me about what they had in mind, it sounded like a wonderful idea to put India and Chennai on the world map”, says Sethu, talking about how it all started. “If a country has to grow, we need to embrace photography and art as over time the culture of a country will reflect in the innovations and attitude of the people”.
Chennai Photo Biennale organized by CPB Foundation team members Varun Gupta, Shuchi Kapoor and Gayatri Nair, and Goethe-Institut Chennai is a public arts initiative in response to the growing interest in photography in India, specifically in Chennai. It isan event committed to putting India and Chennai on the global photography map. The first edition was launched in 2016.
“Where better to have a photography and art festival in India other than Chennai?” asks Sethu. “Chennai represents India which has been a hotbed of so many kingdoms and dynasties. The city has variety, culture, art, festivals, language and myriad architecture in its very DNA. Here you can see the coexistence of tradition and modern life”.
“Be it ancient temples, or rock carvings of Mahabalipuram, traditional markets, beaches, IT Parks or the heritage buildings of the British Raj, you will find it all here. The sheer variety and contrast is what makes it exciting, inimitable and unique as a city to visit. Add to the mix, a large-scale photography event that will span train stations, parks and historical buildings and we attract thousands of art-lovers from across the world.”
As a month long event, the Biennale installed photographic works in train stations, public parks and galleries spread across Central and South Chennai. Along with the exhibitions, the Biennale initiated an important dialogue on environmental, cultural and economic issues through mentorship, presentations and films. This first edition of the Biennale welcomed over 100,000 visitors.
Talking about the challenges he encountered, Sethu says, “Funding for any art events in always tough. CPB is grateful to have the support of the cultural institutions, patrons and corporates who understand the need for such practices and events that work towards bringing the global art and socio-cultural heritage under their umbrella”. Sethu launched a crowd funding for the next edition.
The 2nd edition, scheduled from 22 February - 24 March, 2019, featured over 50 artists from around the world to exhibit in 15 venues across the city. With more than 18 months of planning under the belt, visitors experienced thought-provoking installations, interactive artworks, large-format exhibitions and lectures and discussions surrounding photography. The year focussed on growing the educational program by working with school children and college students.
“The Artistic Director for the second edition of CPB was Pushpamala N,” says Sethu. “She is known as “the most entertaining artist-iconoclast of contemporary Indian art”. Pushpamala is one of the pioneers of conceptual art in India and a renowned photo and video-performance artist, sculptor, writer, curator and provocateur. She curated the biennale with the philosophy ‘Fauna of Mirrors’ - an ancient Chinese myth that behind every mirror there lies an entirely different world inhabited by creatures unknown to earth.
Talking about the third edition, the team is looking at a possibility for December 2020 and will make the announcements soon “once everything is finalized”. As far as theme is concerned, “There will always be themes and discourses involving women with CPB. Right from our choice of a female curator to showing some strong women-focussed work during CPB2019, we have and will continue to build our engagement with women and about women. The last edition had a 50% involvement of women artists and works. We plan to go on creating more space and opportunities for women to collaborate and engage with us”, says Sethu.