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Pune Biennale: The City, Its People and Its Art

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on October 23, 2015 at 12:58 PM

Having worked on the masterplan for Pune as well as several other urban development projects and heading the alma mater of future architects of the city had given Dr. Kiran Shinde the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of his home city, Pune.  But, with a background of training with greats like A.P.Kanvinde and B.V.Doshi, travelling and getting educated at different countries and intrinsically possessing an acute sense of ownership for his hometown created an urge within him to give back to Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra, in a different sense viz. in terms of an endeavor to revive, revitalize, reinterpret and reconnect the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the city and its people. The seed of Biennale was sown and nurtured at the Bharati Vidyapeeth College of Architecture, Pune under the leadership of its Principal, Dr. Kiran Shinde, the Founder-Director of Pune Biennale. In conversation with Ar. Aparna Rao, Assistant Editor, The Future Of Design.

© Courtesy of Dr. Kiran Shinde, Pune Biennale

With an understanding that each of us is an artist in our own sense, people and their ideas about their place takes centrestage in the Pune Biennale – a multidisciplinary city-wide event that was started in 2013. The primary purpose of Pune Biennale is to enhance visual aesthetics in the city and position it on the map of art world. It seeks to make art more public and more accessible by creating a new space for appreciation and education about artistic traditions and expressions through a myriad exhibitions and active engagements between artists, architects, design professionals, and the public. Every biennale is focused on an issue of public importance where participants and people are required to address the issue through various forms of arts. In doing so, people are to be sensitized to the need of better aesthetics of public spaces in the city. 

Themed around “celebrating hills of Pune”, the inaugural Biennale in 2013 was celebrated as a ten-day event (11th - 21st January 2013) on the five hills skirting the city and comprised of site-specific installations in public spaces, art shows in galleries, workshops, art appreciation talks, and dialogues across a variety of media for expression including film, painting, sculpture, new media and performing arts. 

The success of the biennale thrives on its participatory nature with participation from more than twenty institutions including Bharati Vidyapeeth's College of Fine Arts, Department of Photography, School of Performing Arts, and MIT Institute of Design and public professional bodies such as Association of Designers of India (ADI), International Cultural Exchange (ICE), Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID), and quite significantly a galaxy artists. Thus it brought together various stakeholders from civil society, particularly from the fields of architecture, design, and visual arts. Overall, more than 350 artists, about 200 volunteers, and 72 activities across 8 segments and performed over 8 venues made up the Pune Biennale. With more than 80, 000 visitors the event truly drew the attention of people at large towards art and, that too, public art in the public domain. It is no coincidence that the term Biennale became very popular around the time as it was everywhere and people, while looking at art, kept talking about the Pune Biennale. Indeed, Pune Biennale lived up to the expectation of being an event of the people, by the people and for the people and grounded with local community while putting the city and its Biennale on the art map of the country.

The theme of the 2nd Pune Biennale (6th-15th February 2015) was ‘Heritage- Yours and Mine’, where the idea is to use various art forms to realign and enhance cultural identity of people. The biennale intended to seek answer to the central question– "What constitutes heritage and in what ways the heritage of a city contributes to its development and helps to retain or create its identity?" through three major media of expression; Architecture, Photography and Visual Arts.

Images 1,2,3, 4

Johny ML, a well-known art historian and art-critic in the role of the Project Director guided the overall approach and content of the Biennale. It had ten exhibitions, six workshops, five art appreciation talks, and few competitions. The exhibitions were themed around heritage: ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ was a curated exhibition of works by 40 nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, ‘Future of the Past'was a collection of 35 site-specific installations and sculptures made from junk in the serene surroundings of the historic campus of Deccan College. An exhibition titled “Kala-Pravah” was a tribute to those people who have contributed immensely despite lack of acknowledgement, towards the development of Pune’s visual art culture. 

Images 5,6,7,8

The focus on architecture was labored through four major activities: “The rear mirror” – an exhibition of “restored buildings”, “on-going restoration works” and "archival material" by Pune-based architects; showcase of winning entries from a nation-wide competition titled “Accommodating the Melange” where the participants were to come up with design ideas and ideation for a ½ acre site situated in a heritage context (50 entries were received from all over the country and six entries were awarded across ‘student’ and ‘professional’ categories;  a display titled Dimming lights: Time travel and multiple histories of architecture” which helped to discover and narrate stories about built spaces that simultaneously are of great personal significance and have something to do with the cultural history of the city. 

Another highlight was a panel discussion titled “Public space and aesthetics: heritage in continuous motion” which had a stellar panel comprising of noted architect-urban designer Pradeep Sachdeva (from Delhi), Prof. T.C. Chang (Cultural Geographer from National University of Singapore), and senior architect and academic Narendra Dengle (from Pune). 

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Pune Biennale 2015 also had unique performing art pieces including Haiku-workshops and Butoh dance. The photography segment had ten competitions and exhibitions all elucidating the theme of heritage. Street art events by professionals as well as school children and heritage walks through the city enhanced the involvement of citizens and professionals in voicing their opinion regarding their city’s heritage and future.

The Pune Biennale in both its editions has proved that citizens from all walks of life can identify with aesthetics of public space and that this can surely lead to better spaces in the city. 

Designer : N/A
Photography :Courtesy Dr. Kiran Shinde, Pune Biennale

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