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Alnoor Mitha’s notes on CAB 2016

SOUTH ASIAN HUB CAB 2016: ‘Conceiving Space’ –

There is a proliferation of Biennials in the globe. It appears that each and every city in the globe wants to actively transform its artistic discourse by presenting contemporary art in an urban setting. In many ways this boom of creativity encourages a new cultural dialogue. It benefits the local artistic scene as well as an international audience who may not have visited the place for the first time. So where does the biennial phenomenon arise from? The word itself is Italian and means an event that happens every two years.

However, if we interrogate this further we find that the first large scale international exhibitions were at the futuristic London structure, Crystal Palace. During ‘19th century World fairs provided a visual crystallization of colonial culture and were, at the same time, forerunners of contemporary theme parks.”[1] The Venice Biennial which is probably the worlds most attended biennial started in 1895. The rest of the world followed steadfast.

In many ways the globe and its cultural Art fairs are almost like theme parks or a new form of cultural tourism. The artistic global community is able to visit these new events, be it biennials, triennials or Art Fairs that somehow feed the community of collectors, and wider audiences with multiple snapshots of contemporary art.

More recently, we have the South Asian focus on the biennial culture. South Asia is an interesting constituency, rich with history and international trade routes. Take for example the Kochi Muziris Biennial, India, Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh, Lahore/Karachi Biennial Pakistan, Kathmandu Triennial, Nepal and the Colombo Art Biennial, Sri Lanka. These Biennials have created a new kind of aesthetics to consume art in a very different way. My particular focus here is curating the Colombo Art Biennial, (CAB).

As the lead curator for the CAB, my main aim as a researcher and curator is to establish a framework of curating a significant number of local artists from the wider regions of Sri Lanka.

alnoor Mitha

Conceiving space logo-05

The programme will present the works of approximately 25 local artists and 25 International artists exhibited at several different locations around Colombo including Colombo 7 and Colombo 3; Fort and Slave Island, from December 2nd to December 20th 2016.

The local artist segment includes participants from Jaffna, Puttlam, Batticaloa, Gampaha and Colombo and will focus on young emerging artists of Sri Lanka who will make up 50% of local artist participation at CAB2016. Local and international artist’s participants will display a variety of artistic disciplines, including installation, sculpture, sound and performance art.

The conceptual framing for CAB 2016 envisages a consideration of the following intentions and strategies in its artistic direction and curatorial vision: Engage with the theme of ‘Conceiving Space’ – interrogating space as ‘public’ and private; space as protest and contestation; space as tangible and imagined; space as community, memory and legacy; space as architectural, performative, temporal, spiritual and rhythmic; space as liminal and ritualistic; space as embodied and meditative; space as virtual and transcendent.

‘Conceiving Space’ seeks to strengthen the established contemporary Sri Lankan art space and context, and engage with creating artistic associations in the Asian Region (however broadly we define the region), while being conversant in international contemporary art discourses. ‘Conceiving Space’ demands an expansion in the mediums of artistic expression that will be engaged with so that, for example, performance art and music composition and sound (which existed as segments in previous biennales) could contribute as a provocation about what constitutes art for artists and art communities.

I am particularly interested in curating the first “South Asian Hub” in Colombo. In other words, there will be a significant number of South Asian artists whose ancestry is from South Asia but now live in either Europe or USA. The idea of focusing on the hub will create a unique platform that will investigate the current quality of artists from South Asia living internationally. So why South Asian hub? As I have highlighted earlier South Asia is a fascinating geographical location, however the regions haven’t had a friendly or neighborly relationship. There have been political and religious divisions between the regions, and I don’t really want to go into much detail about the differences. However, I am interested in showcasing the familiar, or shall we say the similarity of cultures not least the similarity of artistic exchanges between artists. Artists from South Asia are making some of the most exciting work in the world today. I wanted curate a space, that not only engaged with outstanding talented international artists but also a space that supported the local Sri Lankan artistic sector. I believe that the emerging artists from Sri Lanka will be interconnected with international artists. I have also established a mentoring scheme for local artists where the older generation of artists support the younger ones in a collaborative process.

The CAB 2016 has various creative strands including the architectural intervention to be launching for the first time. The programme which will run from the 3rd – 11th December will be centered in and around the Slave Island district in Colombo with a strong focus on Community Engagement.

Community Engagement

This nine-day programme will see internationally renowned and award winning architects working as artists with the local community with the support of both international and local students and artists. At the end of the programme the collaborations will be showcased in and around the community area, culminating in a ‘Great Feast’ on the last day bringing together 500 members of the local community will be cooking and joined by artists, architects and visitors.

Some of the highlights of the CAB2016 will include:

The work by local Sri Lankan artists Venuri Perera, Abdul Haliq Aziz, Priyantha Udagedara, and Liz Fernando. The international artists will include Mithu Sen, Pushpamala N., Reena Kallat, Faiza Bhutt, Naiza Khan and Hardeep Phandal these are just a few names to entice everyone to the artistic programme.

(15) (c) black candy 2

Black Candy II by Mithu Sen


Venuri Perera

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

street photography by Abdul Halik Aziz


‘An hour in the Herbal Garden II’ 2015

by Priyantha Udagedara

Studio Assemble

Studio Assemble


Madelon Vriesendorp

Studio Assemble & Madelon Vriesendorp

A collaborative project in the heart of Slave Island Learning from the techniques and tactics of crafts and material traditions of Sri Lanka, Madelon and Assemble will build on the contemporary make-do- and-mend craft culture that thrives in Slave Island in several small and improvised workshops.

These workshops will see Madelon and Assemble working together with residents, mixing local contemporary oral histories and folklore to create a series of small, animate sculptures, which will populate the rooftops and streets of Slave Islands. This collaborative process between the residents of Slave island Madelon and Assemble, will produce work that will be the first permanent public sculptures for both Madelon Vriesendorp and Studio Assemble.

The CAB2016 is an ambitious programme that will invigorate the mind and create a subliminal as well as conceptual space that will lure the audience to visit the multiple sites in Colombo. The CAB is a free event with films, performances and site specific interventions. In short, the public should feel free to attend and collaborate with the series of community engagement programmes.

Alnoor Mitha FRSA, Lead Curator Colombo Art Biennial

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