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Students’ Biennale Meet Calls for New Art Education Models

In Kochi
March 25, 2019

Art education in India needs new teaching models that must replace a largely outdated pedagogy even as protests and struggles in universities can themselves be sites of learning, according to an international meet held as part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

The study material should focus on regional cultures for the benefit of the learner, who should also be provided with emerging technology, speakers at the two-day Student’s Biennale conference noted. The country should “re-excavate” its art classrooms and “expand” their potential in syllabi as “laboratories for thinking” by diversification and intensification of learning environments, they added.

Discussing the importance of art engagement and education in art colleges across India, they reiterated that institutions need to permit the formation of innovative frameworks in art teaching as has been the trend in many parts of the globe.

Organised in conjunction with the Students’ Biennale 2018, the March 21-22 event titled ‘Pedagogical In-Flux and the Art of Education’ saw speakers stressing on the vitality importance of systemic shifts happening in art education across continents and the need to dismantle caste and gender barriers in a country like India.

Scholar Mick Wilson from Sweden emphasised the vitality of geopolitics when in the world of learning and teaching art. A professor with the Valand Academy under Gothenburg University, his talk took reference from various prominent images of US troopers in Afghanistan in the context of the issue of migrants from Syria.

“If we are talking about contemporary art, it is important for us to address the political situation of the world and reflect on it. Within the contemporary art system, the artists are thematising the questions of the geo-political system,” the scholar noted in his lecture titled ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Higher Arts Education after the Global’.

A panel discussion moderated by art scholar Kaushik Bhaumik stressed the need for timely intervention from art students in matters about society so as to enable them reflect in their works. Prof Sanchayan Ghosh of Department of Painting, Santiniketan, stressed the need for deep relation with contemporary matters so as to build an awareness that classroom exercises cannot guarantee.

US-based researcher-educator Nicole Marroquin observed that learning art is part of social activism. A change of regime in America over the past two years with the country getting a new president has added to the importance of art in that country’s society, according to the speaker, whose current research looks at Chicago school uprisings between 1967 and ’74. “Contemporary art students just cannot keep away from societal matters,” she added.

Taking cue from the observation, Sri Lankan artist-educator Sanathanan Thamotharam noted that the developments in Tamil Nadu during his studies amid the ethnic strife in the island-nation has had huge impact on his works and approach to art.

Australia-based artist David Sequeira and Kate Daw, who heads the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, focused on the need for contemporary art studies to be studio-centric. Classrooms should not function in a way that control the one’s growth as an artist, they added.

Anita Dube, who is curator of the ongoing fourth edition of the biennale, said art education best works in the atmospherics of a bar, which is not lit up with red or blue lights but one that could be a “very serious library” which ensures “one isn’t hungry” and provides space to argue and be “intoxicated” with knowledge.

Another discussion, moderated by art educator Bhooma Padmanabhan, had artists and academics B V Suresh (University of Hyderabad), Santhosh Sadanandan (Ambedkar University Delhi) and Rangoato Hlasane (University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) exhorting for lesser reliance on science and technology in art. That requires the field to host more such seminars, they added.

On Thursday, Shukla Sawant, a professor of Visual Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics under Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said a chunk of the country’s visual production does not come out of studios. Therefore, a programme of art need not be studio-based. “Even where I teach, the studio system is not very prevalent,” she noted. “Also, gender and caste are prominent topics that we need to address. They have become recurring fields/realms of investigation in art practices today.”

A panel discussion she moderated was addressed by art historian Sarada Natarajan, artist Krishnapriya C P of Chennai and Mumbai-based teacher Kausik Mukhopadhayay known for his artwork from discarded household objects.

The KBF’s third Students’ Biennale Education Conference is being organised in association with Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, featuring scholars and experts from across the world speaking on matters such as learner-centric pedagogy, technologies of teaching, new materialism and significance of locations/sites in artistic practices.