by Devanshi ShahAug 27, 2022
The delicately ornamented walls of Ca' Giustinian resound with words that leave very little doubt as to their meaning: "Stranieri Ovunque-Foreigners Everywhere" is the title the Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa presented for the 60th International Art Exhibition during the last press conference of Venice Art Biennale. This title comes from the eponymous neon sculpture series started in 2004 by the Paris-born and Palermo-based art collective Claire Fontaine, a significant work whose message, even after almost two decades, has not lost its relevance.
Pedrosa, after a degree in law from the Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro and a master’s degree in Art and Critical Writing from the California Institute of the Arts, started his career as an artist himself before becoming a curator. Among the most important roles held in the past, he was the adjunct curator of the 24th Bienal de São Paulo (1998), co-curator of the 27th Bienal de São Paulo (2006), co-curator of the 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011) and curator of the São Paulo pavilion at the 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012). Since 2014 he has been the artistic director of Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand - MASP, where his curatorial approach has mostly focused on different kinds of socio-cultural marginalities, dedicating solo shows to women artists who have been long undervalued, as well as starting the ongoing series Histórias (Histories), with which he explored themes such as childhood (2016), sexuality (2017), the African diaspora (2018), feminism (2019) and the complexities of Brazilian history (2022).
Now Pedrosa is the first Latin American curator in the history of Venice Biennale and his curatorial choice could not be more in dialogue with the historical and artistic phase we are living in. The focus of this edition will be the relativism of the concept of “foreigner”, which involves not only different embodiments of "otherness" moving and existing across countries, nations, and borders, such as the indigenous, the queer, the immigrant, the outsider, the exiled, but affects all of us indistinctively, regardless of where and who we are. The exhibition will be divided into a Nucleo Contemporaneo and a Nucleo Storico: the last one will gather works from 20th century Latin America, Africa, the Arab world, and Asia. Identity was already a core topic in Cecilia Alemani’s Art Biennale in 2022 and this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Lesley Lokko, has been already an important reminder about the need of wider cultural and geographical perspectives, as the President of La Biennale di Venezia Roberto Cicutto mentioned during the press conference.
Venice is the ideal setting for this exhibition, as it has welcomed diasporic cultures, such as the Armenian and Jewish ones, for centuries. We should also point out that “Foreigners Everywhere” has been announced in the middle of a socio-political and historical context that has been required to address the multiple meanings of foreignness much more systematically, not only in Italy but also across the whole European continent and beyond. Pedrosa himself reminded us that “Stranieri Ovunque” was originally the name of a Turin-based collective that used to fight against racism and xenophobia in the early 2000s: apparently, many things didn’t change, or even got worse from this point of view, but the narratives and the practices in the art world have been deeply evolving since then.
From an Italian perspective, it is interesting to observe that Pedrosa also stated that a special section in the Nucleo Storico will be devoted to the Italian artistic diaspora that invested in several countries inside and outside Europe in the 20th century. We should remember that Italy has long been affected by the phenomenon of emigration, causing the movement of approximately 12 million people between the last decades of the 19th century and the 70s. This happened not only for economic, but also for political reasons, involving artists and intellectuals, especially during the fascist regime between the 20s and the 30s: it has soon become evident that this phenomenon could have led to peculiar identity dynamics. An emblematic example that Pedrosa didn’t mention, but might be particularly pertinent, is the case of Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), whose cultural legacy is still disputed between Argentina, the place where he was born and spent part of his life, and Italy, where his family came from and he later moved back to become the founder of Spatialism and one of the greatest sculptors from the 20th century.
At this point, we might also mention another important artist from the recent past, the Lithuanian filmmaker, poet, and artist Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), who was forced to leave his country for political reasons to become a refugee in the United States at the end of the 40s. Mekas used to say about himself that, despite the metropolitan context where most of his works came to life, he was still a “farmer” in the deep of his soul. If an overlapping of different cultural and geographical influences is already part of each human being’s life, artists moving through borders and even very distant corners of the world keep showing us meaningfully that the precarity and the marginality that characterised their lives, as well as the connection with their roots, are among the main reasons that made their research precious and unique.
In conclusion, we had the opportunity to ask a question to Adriano Pedrosa about the role of empathy in contemporary art and if it might become relevant in Venice Art Biennale 2024. He replied saying that he really hopes this will be perceived as a part of the message since the existence of the foreigner, the queer, and the outsider can not be left on the margins anymore.