Opening on May 13 to the public, the 57th edition of the Venice Biennale, titled “Viva Arte Viva” is curated by Christine Macel. Of the of 120 participating artists and national pavilions, only 7 African countries are represented. “In a world full of conflicts and jolts, in which humanism is being seriously jeopardized, art is the most precious part of the human being,” Macel has said in a statement. “It is the ideal place for reflection, individual expression, freedom and fundamental questions. It is a ‘yes’ to life, although sometimes a ‘but’ lies behind. More than ever, the role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are crucial in the framework of contemporary debates.” This year, questions around national and post-national art will be explored in several different projects in and around Venice. Particularly relevant, the African Art in Venice Forum is an event that raises the question as to why only seven of the 54 countries in Africa are represented in the 2017 Biennale.
African countries participating in the 2017 Venice Biennale include Angola (which won the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2013 and was the first pavilion of Angola at the Venice Biennale); Egypt; Ivory Coast; Nigeria (a first time participant); South Africa; Tunisia and Zimbabwe.
Apart from the National Pavillions, there are a number of rebel pavilions participating. The Diaspora Pavilion is conceived as a challenge to the prevalence of national pavilions within the structure of an international biennale and takes its form from the coming-together of nineteen artists whose practices in many ways expand, complicate and even destabalise diaspora as term, whilst highlighting the continued relevance that diaspora as a lived reality holds today. The pavilion also forms part of the 22-month, joint ICF and UAL project ‘Diaspora Platform’, which is designed to deliver mentoring and professional development by eleven selected mentors for twelve UK-based emerging artists whose work engages with the topic of the diaspora. During the length of the project, these practitioners will take part in group forum, one-on-one mentoring sessions and group masterclasses. The selected participants and eight of the mentors will all showcase their work in the Diaspora Pavilion. Exhibiting artists include Larry Achiampong; Barby Asante; Sokari Douglas Camp; Libita Clayto; Kimathi Donkor; Paul Maheke | Khadija Saye; Yinka Shonibare MBE and Abbas Zahedi.
ATARAXIA, is a salon program featuring talks, events, and artist meals curated by Cameroonian-born exhibition maker Koyo Kouoh. This salon will investigate, among other things, Switzerland’s fabled neutrality and independence.
“The whole program of ATARAXIA asks how you can be in a state of calm and stability when everything is crumbing around you,” says Kouoh. “I have always asked myself how a country like Switzerland comes seemingly untouched and unharmed through the horrors of the 20th century, and achieved such prosperity and wealth. They think they achieved this because they worked so hard, but it’s a collective national illusion. Switzerland is a country of myths, and I wanted to deconstruct them.”
For Kouoh, the issue of national representation at Venice is a “tricky, double-edged sword.” This sentiment is echoed by David A. Bailey, co-curator of the Diaspora Pavilion: “Venice is one of the oldest Biennales, and it’s based on colonial nationalism,” he explains, comparing the enclosure of the permanent pavilions within the Giardini to a “gated system,” with new independent nations relegated to showing outside of it. For Bailey, that “double-edge” comes for countries wanting to buy into the concept of national representation at the Biennale, but wishing to distance themselves, simultaneously, from colonial history.
FOCUS – AFRICAN PAVILLIONS
We’ve selected a number of the African Pavillions to feature:
The Zimbabwean Pavillion
at Church Santa Maria della Pieta, Venice
DECONSTRUCTING BOUNDARIES- Exploring Ideas of Belonging
is curated by Raphael Chikukwa assisted by Fadzai Veronica Muchemwa
An exhibition of artworks by Sylvester Mubayi, Charles Bhebe, Dana Whabira and Admire Kamudzengerere. The exhibition seeks to put forth some questions relating to the matter of boundaries, and belonging. In the face of relentless, cultural conflicts, migration, urbanisation, land reform, nationalism, globalisation, physical boundaries are getting blurred and challenged. Perceptions of belonging vary according to our knowledge and the cultural, political and social environment in which we live. Today the mobility and migration of people from one place to the other is challenging cultural norms and the ideas of belonging are constantly challenged. The current state of politics in the West is a reality that we had forgotten existed. The voices and perspectives of artists in this regard are thus important, for they are the mirrors of society. The exhibition asks pertinent questions about where African culture is today and what it will be like in future. Of importance is how much say artists have in shaping the culture and values that are accorded African Culture in Africa. This comes at a time when traditional, and cultural and faith groups are failing to co-exist.
The Egypt Pavilion
Giardini della Biennale (Biennale’s Gardens)
Sestiere Castello, 30122 Venice
This too shall pass
The artist for this year’s Egyptian pavilion at the Venice Biennale is Moataz NasrIn his work, The Mountain, he explores the facts and the fears of contemporary village-life in Egypt. The Egyptian Pavilion, for the occasion has been transformed. The visitors can expect to be completely absorbed in a complex light play, and to be embraced by a multisensory installation and the large scale film projection telling the story of this imagined village.
Moataz Nasr is a contemporary Egyptian artist from Cairo whose work encompasses installations, video, sculpture and painting. While studying economics in Alexandria, he entered his work in a competition organized by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and winning made is entry into the Egyptian art scene. Since then, his art has been on show all around the globe.
The South African Pavilion
Sale D’Armi, Arsenale, Venice
Mohua Modisakeng Endabeni 4 2015 Ink-jet print on epson ultrasmooth 150x200cm Edition of 6 + 2 A
Curator Lucy MacGarry assisted by Musha Neluheni have selected artists Candice Breitz + Mohau Modisakeng to represent South Africa. The exhibition explores the disruptive power of storytelling in relation to historical and contemporary waves of forced migration. Breitz’s seven-channel installation, Love Story (2016), interrogates the conditions under which empathy is produced. Featuring Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore, the work is based on and includes dense interviews with six refugees. Modisakeng’s threechannel installation, Passage (2017), meditates on slavery’s 3 with black male identity, body and place within a postapartheid context. Modisakeng presents critical responses to ideas of nationhood, leadership, inequality and migrant labour that manifest visually as poignant moments of grieving and catharsis central to the current lived experience of contemporary South Africans.
The Nigerian Pavillion
Scoletta dei Tiraoro e Battioro, San Stae, Santa Croce
Curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and entitiled How about NOW?” features artists Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, and Qudus Onikeku.
This is the first year Nigeria will be exhibiting at the Venice Biennale—a long time coming, according to the artists and curators. The three contemporary artists address Nigeria’s unique position in past and present narratives of world history by invoking ideas of memory, identity, colonialism, and cultural heritage. The exhibition consists of a melange of large-scale installation, performance films, and paintings.