Critics’ Picks

CAMP, A Photogenetic Line, 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

CAMP, A Photogenetic Line, 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Chennai Photo Biennale 2019

Chennai Photo Biennale
61, CPB Foundation, 1, 2nd Main Rd
February 22–March 24, 2019

In a photograph by Aishwarya Arumbakkam on display at the Government College of Fine Arts, long, slim fingers pull shiny, wet organs over a pile of flat stones. It’s more beautiful than brutal: a tender imagining of someone grabbing at the remains of something lost. In the series “Ahp,” 2016, Arumbakkam animates an old Cambodian myth about a female ghost ostracized and feared by village life.

At the Senate House, several card cutouts of blown-up images lie staggered on a zig-zagging table in a stained-glass room, each image carefully excised from the photojournalist archive of The Hindu—a leading national newspaper—by the film and media collective CAMP. In A Photogenetic Line, 2019, figures, objects, landscapes, and architecture stand together in darting, colliding verses: What forms the background in one image is often foregrounded in another. People age; captions connect. Multiple histories become legible through layered, sculptural works on paper that exploit the montaging techniques of film.

A film installation by Karthik Subramanian at Art Houz Gallery takes on the cultish ascension of former movie starlet Jayalalitha Jayaram as one of the fiercest and most revered politicians in recent memory, who refashioned herself as “Amma”: mother of the state. The two-channel film I swear on my mother, 2017–18, begins with Jayalalithaa, who died in 2016, dancing in her first Tamil film on one screen; on the other, an adoring parliamentary audience thumps loudly after one of her rousing speeches. It’s a work with a deeply subjective lens, a powerful moment for a biennial whose second edition, curated by artist Pushpamala N., hopes to strengthen its ties with the local community and regional politics.