Waiting for a Nigerian Pavilion at 57th Venice Biennale

Installation work of Ola-Dele Kuku shown at last Venice Architecture Biennale 2015.

Installation work of Ola-Dele Kuku shown at last Venice Architecture Biennale 2015.

A Nigerian Pavilion at Venice Art Biennale in 2017 may come to pass courtesy of unnamed groups and individuals, with the support of government.. The 57th edition of Venice Art Biennale opens in May this year and ends November at the over a century-old global art gathering, where as many as 80 countries converge every two years.

In 2015, Nigeria took a step towards breaking the elusive jinx when artist and architect, Ola-Dele Kuku, with the support of Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and contribution of Lagos-based Arthouse Contemporary, gave the country its first national Pavilion presentation at the Venice Architecture Biennale. But the Art exhibition part, which is the central event, remains a dream to be realised for Nigeria’s creative industry.

The fact that Nigeria, either as non-governmental or collaborative effort with government agency, has been making efforts to have a pavilion in the last three editions confirmed the global importance of participating at the event. And why not? The volume of participants and visitors to Venice Biennale every two years make the event Art’s own Olympic.

African countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, among others have had pavilions at Venice Biennale, except, ironically, Nigeria. has never been officially represented.

The last edition, which had a Nigerian, Germany-based historian, Okwui Enwezor as artistic director with the theme, All The World’s Future, offered an opportunity for Africans to expand the continent’s art. Indeed, the 2015 edition had 35 black artists from Africa, the U.S and Europe.

For 2017, French art historian, Christine Macel is the artisitc director of 57th International Art Exhibition with theme Viva Arte Viva. Traditionally, the biennale holds from May – November.

If the unnamed Nigerian group gets support of Federal Government and necessary sponsors for the 57th edition, perhaps more laurels would come to African art. At the 56th edition, Africa confirmed its growing status on the global art space when Ghanaian master El Anatsui was given Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

Also at the 55th edition, a debutant, Angola, picked the Golden Lion prize award for the best national pavilion courtesy of the work titled ‘Luanda, Encyclopedic City’, a photography composite by Edson Chagas.

A curatorial note from Macel may be of interest to whoever is showing interest in taking Nigeria to its first Venice Art Bienniale.

“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,” she explains the theme. “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.

“Viva Arte Viva is also an exclamation, an expression of the passion for art and for the state of the artist. Viva Arte Viva is a Biennale designed with the artists, by the artists and for the artists. It deals with the forms they propose, the questions they pose, the practices they develop and the forms of life they choose.

“The Exhibition organically evolves in a sequence of pavilions, rooms and stanze, offering the spectator an experience, i.e. a journey, from the interiority to the infinity.”



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