Coovum Art Festival ∞ Embrace The River

Chennai, 15-10-2015, Coovum Art Festival ∞ Embrace The River is a public art and outreach project that leads people to the Coovum river banks, to take ownership and celebrate the river and water through art. It unites the works of local, national, and international artists through exhibitions, installations, performances, and educational programmes that engage residents and visitors throughout the City of Chennai.

Chennai City is gifted with two rivers namely Coovum and Adyar with Buckingham canal cutting across them, together they shape the city landscape. The Coovum river originates from a village with the same name in Tiruvallur district, about 70 km upstream of Chennai, although its main course begins at Satharai village, which is at a distance of 65 km. Flowing through Poonamallee, it enters Chennai District at Nolambur meandering for more than 50 km. It then runs for another 20 km through Choolaimedu, Chetpet, and Egmore. Near Egmore, just before Col. Laws Bridge, the river splits into two creating the Northern and Southern arms that meet again before Napier Bridge, forming the Island Grounds. The river finally drains in the Bay of Bengal, south of Fort St. George, just downstream of Napier Bridge. The Coovum river is highly polluted, and because of the foul smell that emanates from it due to open sewers, it is being considered a health hazard by the Chennai population. People no longer visit the river. Instead of being a friendly, sociable place it is covered by a veil of silence and has become a taboo. The Government of Tamil Nadu through Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust has initiated the ambitious “Integrated Coovum River Eco-restoration Project”. The project aims to restore the river by improving the water quality, flow of water etc. and aesthetically appealing for the community to come to it. In addition to this, the Chennai city consciousness voices are multiplying that denounce the shame for the city and its citizens and demanding a change.

In the month of July 2015, a group of 25 artists, activists, and journalists from India under the leadership of Pa. Madhavan, an artist and curator, walked ten days along the river Coovum ( This walking project was conceived with the aim to bring different genres of artistic and social media together to experience the river ecosystem, its interaction with the landscape and the relationship between river and people. During the walk the participants felt strongly that a program should be organized to bring the people of Chennai to the Coovum and change their understanding and perspective of this river.

On the other hand, the Goethe-Institut Chennai / Max Mueller Bhavan had decided to make ‘urban water’ a focus of its cultural programs, in March 2015 it began to explore ideas and projects through workshops with experts and artists. This project built up on very positive experiences gained with “Conquer the Concrete– Chennai Street Art Festival”, 20 January – 7 February 2015

In this context Walk Along the River and Goethe-Institut Chennai / Max Mueller Bhavan collaborated with Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT), Chennai City Connect and Confluence- 10 to launch Coovum Art Festival ∞ Embrace The River from January 14 – 31, 2016. The festival is an international art project in the public space, open and accessible to everybody. Being public it reaches large audiences throughout Chennai, creates great visibility and excellent media coverage. The festival will bring back the “good old practice” of people to visit and enjoy the splendour and magnificence of the river, to find peace and meaning.

The participatory format establishes ownership and commitment by the citizens. New impulses will be given to the envisaged but not yet executed process of designing the river landscape. Thus the festival contributes in a very concrete way to the quality of life in Chennai. On a river stretch of one and a half kilometers an open-air gallery will be with works of more than 40 local, national, and international artists. The visual arts will prevail with installations sculptures, murals and photography, performative works, literature and music, dance and theatre. We envision the festival as an open space where free expression and dialogue of ideas and creativity can take place.

The events will be concentrated at Chetpet, Chennai, along the river Coovum. With the support of Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) and the City of Chennai, the river-bank will be cleaned by volunteers. It will be then designed by a landscape architect into an innovative and aesthetically pleasing environment for people to enjoy and appreciate the river features, while ensuring that changes to the natural environment are appropriate, sensitive and sustainable. A walking route will be designed for the visitors to go through all the public installations and to guide them to other events.


ABU NASER ROBII has been working as an artist, art and cultural activist in Bangladesh since 1998. He is the founder and the chairman of Porapara, a space for artists founded in 2004 (, active with Intra Asia Network that has engaged twenty three Asian countries, and was the Assistant Coordinator of Asian Art Biennial 2013, Dhaka. He curated “Floating peers- 2013”, a 22 day international artist residency as well as a workshop and public event beside the river Karnaphuli in 2013. Robii participated in the 2014 and 2015 editions of Asian Arts Space Network meetings. Along with curating many exhibition in Bangladesh and South Korea, Abu Naser Robii has participated in many international artist residency programs, workshop and exhibitions. Public art practices are the core of his artistic-curatorial journey. |

AJIT BHADORIYA is a Photography Design graduate from National Institute of Design. Photography acts as a catalyst for him, a catalyst through which to ask questions, even when there are no answers. His images are witness to personal and social negotiations within the complex systems of survival. The work “Pathmakers” was a result of the Media Fellowship awarded by National Foundation for India in the year 2009-2010. He has also received the prestigious Tierney Fellowship by the Tierney Foundation, New York for the year 2011-2012. He has been selected for many international workshops and presented his work at festivals like Angkor Photo Festival, Chobi Mela, and Photoville.

AZITA EBADI is an art and culture manager and a fellow of ArThinkSouthAsia. She lives between Berlin and Tehran. She is the co-founder of ArtEngineers (independent artists from Iran and Japan). In 2014 she started the art and culture initiative, to support the academic debate and analysis of contemporary art from Iran; and to initiate dialogues between cultures and working towards strengthening collaborations with the aim of opening up potentials and opportunities to the region. She worked for Art Tomorrow Magazine in Tehran and House of world Culture in Berlin. She was involved in several international exhibitions, also as co-curator, moderator and a jury member. She has been a conference speaker in Bonn and Brussels and was a jury member at the Short Film Festival Interfilm. She has studied in Germany and has an educational background in Textile Engineering and Multimedia Publishing. |

GEORG ZOLCHOW is a Berlin-born, Madrid-based independent curator and cultural manager. He specializes in art in public space and new trends of urban art. In his curatorial work he focuses on exhibitions in spaces that are not perceived as exhibition spaces. He has worked with, among others, the Goethe Institut, the Berlin Biennale, the Cervantes Institute and Casa Encendida Madrid. He was previously in Chennai curating the – Conquer the Concrete – Street Art Festival Part I and II with the Goethe-Institut.


MICHELLE DIZON is an artist, filmmaker, writer, theorist, and educator based in Los Angeles, California. Born in the United States as part of the Philippine diaspora, Dizon’s life experience has been shaped by the politics of migration across the Pacific Rim. The legacies of colonialism and the contemporary realities of globalization form central pivots in her works. The works take the form of multi-channel video installations, expanded cinema performances, essay films, photographs, discursive events, pedagogical experiments, and writing. Across these many strands, her commitment remains grounded in decolonial struggle. Dizon is founder of at land’s edge, an experimental platform for visual research and catalyst for decolonial thought and action. She earned an MFA in Art with specialization in Interdisciplinary Studio at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric with designated emphases in Film and Women, Gender, and Sexuality from the University of California, Berkeley. |

RAHUL BHATTACHARYA is a cultural theorist, pursuing independent writing, curating exhibitions, art education spaces and public art projects. He has been designing communications for events, exhibitions and art works. Rahul is the Co-founder of ‘Regional Arts .Performance and Events’ ( He was the Managing Editor of Art&Deal Magazine (2009-12) and the founding Conveyor MATI (Management of Art Treasures of India). Rahul has also had a long running engagement in Art Education, and has taught in various spaces. He is exploring the possibility of workshop based art education as co-founder of NINE Schools of Art. He has written extensively in various journals and publications on ancient – medieval Indian culture, colonial historiography and theorising contemporary art as praxis . Rahul Bhattacharya is a founding member of Performers Independent and the founder organizer of Kolkata International Performance Art Festival. |

VIDISHA SAINI is an artist and an arts organizer. Engaging with contemporary art she has initiated and coordinated alternative learning pedagogies, queer, feminist & immigrant solidarity groups, public programs, digital formats, site- specific interventions, and research-based processes. Vidisha has (co) curated residency programs like SIDE International Residency Program (Jaipur, India, Sept 2014- April 2015), “We Belong To Us” (Surfatial, July 2015) and “You Might Be Discovered” (LAST Projects, Los Angeles, USA, June- July 2014). She has exhibited and performed at 1After320 (New Delhi, India, 2015), Focus Festival (Mumbai, India, 2013, 2015), Kipaf (Kolkata, India, 2015), 24, Jor Bagh (New Delhi 2014), Pristine Gallery (Monterrey, Mexico, 2014), Cirrus Gallery (Los Angeles, 2014), Queens Museum of Art (Queens, USA, 2014), Concord Space (Los Angeles, 2013), among other places in India and internationally since 2007. Saini holds a Master of Fine Arts in Photography & Media, and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts (California) and a Bachelor of Design in Communication Design from National Institute of Fashion Technology (New Delhi). |

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