Q. Why did you and Bose Krishnamachari feel the need for having a Student Biennale (SB) as a part of Kochi Muziris-Biennale (KMB)?
While KMB is the catalyst, the Kochi Biennale Foundation aims to create and enable platforms that support and sustain art, and extendedly, cultural ecosystems in the country. The Foundation is eager to subvert an ‘expectations game’ and become the voice that is reflective of larger socio-cultural-political arguments and artistic expressions from, and in support of the `global-south’.
It is as part of such a drive that we focus on arts education and an institutional infrastructure in India —workshops, lectures and children’s camps throughout the year. The Students’ Biennale is an attempt to contribute to the art education system at the college level and be an occasion where all of the stake-holders of contemporary art —students included must have a place and broaden their scope of engagement.
Q. How has the format of the Student Biennale evolved over the years?
Firstly, the scale of the initaitve has increased with each edition and our collaboration with FICA (Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art) and FIAE (Foundation for Indian Art Education) has certainly helped. Also, from 2014 onwards, we have had a strong curatorial training component as part of the overall project, further deepening our involvement with art colleges through special projects. We therefore have plans for enhancing curriculum intervention in the next edition as well. The exhibition that we see every two years is only one of the concluding moments of an extended process and plan that the Students’ Biennale is part of. From the 2018 edition onwards, the SB will address the larger subcontinent.
Q. What have been the highlights of the Student Biennale for you personally?
I think now more than ever, we cannot restrict arts education to classrooms. We need art, history, politics and humanities to be part of the larger learning process in order to develop discourses.
As the Director of SB, my aim has always been to build a team—nudge the students away from archaic ways of thinking and making, so as to create a platform that would allow them to experiment with contemporary practices, to respond to the times that we live in, and to inhabit a space that remains outside the ‘art-world’ bubble, allowing young students/ contemporary artists, as well as young curators to respond to and bring about discourses on how we think of and reflect about our society at large.
The SB has helped us to understand the flaws in the Indian art education system by being able to do a survey of student work which is emerging from different corners of the country.
Q. What role do you see the Student Biennale playing in creating a vibrant contemporary art scene in India?
One of the objectives of the KB Foundation is to make a difference at the formal educational level as well. Like I mentioned, we want the Students’ Biennale to go beyond its final exhibition, to be a means of adding to what is already strong in the art education system in India; and also to be a place where new forms of pedagogy can be imagined and deployed.
I think we have to look at this holistically, not an action-and-reaction kind of engagement. First, the Students’ Biennale gives art students, say from Assam for instance, a chance to participate in an international event, work with curators and be involved with art production at a scale that they are probably not exposed to. Along with this, they get to work closely with the Biennale, meet artists from around the world, see how artists experiment with ideas and materials, etc. Additionally, the Students’ Biennale also gives them an option to interact with ‘viewers’ of the Biennale —from the general public, to aficionados, art critics, experts, artists, museum directors, collectors etc., who are there to explore and learn. This give-and-take is what makes possible a healthy environment to produce art and enable artists. For an art student, this exposure cannot be quantified. So I believe that the Students’ Biennale is not only giving them a platform to exhibit their work, but also a space that allows them to learn through the act of seeing and making.
Q How have artists and curators benefited from the Student Biennale — perhaps you could cite some examples?
For many artists and curators, Kochi has provided the very first exposure to a wider world of contemporary art. It also serves as an occasion to work with a curator on a large project. Additionally, workshops that are organised at the colleges are also useful for student artists who don’t eventually show at the Biennale. The curators have training-and-discussion sessions with established artists, curators and educators prior to their involvement with their colleges. Their curatorial projects also expose them to a diversity of production spaces and pedagogic cultures.
One of the main learning areas for young aspiring curators is to see how academic processes of art education materialise in physical form. They get exposure to different education methods, styles, materials, processes and also understand the influences of and relationship to locations which host such art initiatives. Most curators explore further iterations of curatorial studies and also begin to make new exhibitions with other artists.
Mukesh Rajak, a student of the Government Institute of Fine Arts, Indore, during the installation of his work Troglodytes at the 2016 Students’ Biennale.(Photograph courtesy Riyas Komu).