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Curators’ classroom

The eighth edition of the Experimenter Curators' Hub in Kolkata saw a gamut of curatorial strategies up for debate

Experimenter gallery founders Priyanka and Prateek Raja. Photo: Experimenter, Kolkata
Experimenter gallery founders Priyanka and Prateek Raja. Photo: Experimenter, Kolkata

Since its inception, the Experimenter gallery in Kolkata has specialized in showcasing cutting-edge artists. It’s driven to select works which reflect new ways of seeing, and which respond to socio-political scenarios. Last month, the gallery held its eighth edition of Curators’ Hub—an annual three-day discussion marathon, where artists, designers, architects and curators come together. Moderated by Natasha Ginwala, it featured documenta 14 (2017) artistic director Adam Szymczyk and Jeebesh Bagchi, curator of the Shanghai Biennale 2016 and a co-founder of the Raqs Media Collective. Lounge spoke to Experimenter founders Priyanka and Prateek Raja about the Curators’ Hub. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

What set the eighth edition apart from its predecessors?

The Curators’ Hub was initiated out of a crucial need to critically discuss curatorial practices across the world, and thereby understand what lay behind significant exhibition-making. It offers an opportunity to reflect upon curatorial practices and delve deeper into the finest minds in contemporary visual arts. Having just completed the eighth edition, we feel that the much deliberated coming together of the curators brought about a more nuanced understanding of curatorial practices than ever before. We always hope that conversations at the hub will precipitate crucial ideas, challenges and opportunities that curators are facing. This year, some of these key thoughts were discussed in detail.

What were some of the fundamental issues discussed this year?

There were some key aspects that emerged from the hub, some of them deeply linked with each other and some disparate yet crucial. From Sabih Ahmed’s presentation, which looked at the archive as a point of entry into, and a tool of, curatorial practice, to Erin Gleeson’s work in strife-ridden Cambodia, where the absence of the archive was a constant presence for her, and in the challenge to write history and to turn to an archive to do so, the role of the archive returned. There was also Bagchi’s use of metadata along the same lines to redefine moments and ask the fundamental questions of “Why Not Ask Again?" in their Shanghai Biennale exhibition. In addition, Kavita Singh’s encounters with censorship, and the online cacophony of political noise attempting to rewrite histories are some of the fundamental ideas that came up this year.

You’ve introduced the Experimenter Learning Program this year where artists, writers, dancers and so on will head programmes in a set-up akin to a classroom.

One of the biggest inhibitors to knowledge development in our country are our structures of learning and education, and we are deeply interested in breaking these structures. We have been thinking about how we can make a definitive impact on the world. In the absence of serious public enterprise in art in our country, we feel it’s our responsibility to bring to the community the access we enjoy with some of the most exciting minds across the world. Discourse lies at the crux of understanding our dystopian contemporary moment, and is possibly the only way to establish a future of awareness that celebrates contradiction and diversity and (we) would like to invite thinkers, writers, curators, artists, architects and so on from all over the world.

In pursuit of that, we started the learning programme, which is envisioned as a long-term and multifaceted learning and education programme that keeps visual culture at its root to build discourse around it. The programme will have an year-long modular schedule which includes the annual Experimenter Curators’ Hub, workshops, salon-style classrooms and a young-adults learning programme. The ELP is being organized with the Sharjah Art Foundation.

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