by Rosalyn D`MelloSep 16, 2022
The Venice Biennale 2022, after a gap of one year due to the global pandemic induced crisis, opened in the milieu of an on-going war between Russia and Ukraine. The 59th edition of the prestigious biennale on contemporary art has added several firsts to its name. To begin with, in the long 127-year history of the biennale, the Italy-born artistic director, Cecilia Alemani, the director and chief curator of New York’s High Line Art, is its first female curator. Alemani has titled her biennale The Milk of Dreams after a book of the same name by Surrealist writer Leonora Carrington. She revisits the feminist theorist and activist Silvia Federici and sci-fi author Ursula K Le Guin in her curatorial essay. Only 21 artists among the 213 participating artists in the biennale are men, which rightly makes the Venice Biennale celebrate the power of artistic expression practised by female, non-binary and trans artists. Supplementing the visible female presence, the new participation of the key nations – from the continent of Africa, Asia and the region of Euro Asia - has imperatively raised the bar of biennale’s critical visual appeal. The countries including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are participating for the first time with their national pavilions, and Cameroon, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, and Uganda are the new participants at the art biennale.
Paul Emmanuel Loga Mahop and Sandro Orlandi Stagl are curating the show The Times of the Chimera at the inaugural pavilion of Cameroon. The first crypto art exhibition, with the artists Angéle Etoundi Essamba, Francis Nathan Abiamba, Jorge R Pombo, Justine Gaga, Matteo Mezzadri, Salifou Lindou, Shay Frisch, Umberto Mariani, to name a few, is underwritten by the collective Global Crypto Art DAO. The installation, The Lone Stone Men of the Desert, an art project by the artistic collective RENN, at the Namibian Pavilion garnered attention for all the wrong reasons, just before the formal inauguration of the sculptural art. Curated by Marco Furio Ferrario, the art exhibition kindled the debate around racist and colonialist approaches to the representation of the Indigenous peoples. The contemporary artists of Namibia indicted the artist and artwork as an embodiment of the epistemic violence inflicted by the colonial empire.
The Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi inspires the installation Dixit Algorizmi – The Garden of Knowledge by the artists Abror Zufarov and Charli Tapp at the Uzbekistan Pavilion. Organised by Studio Space Caviar and Sheida Ghomashchi, the sound installation complements the geometrical simulation of the garden at the pavilion. It is the artificial and technologically augmented garden that opens many possibilities for the ubiquitous Islamic architectural style garden. Closer home, the country that has successfully made its presence felt across the global art in the past few years, is Nepal. Taking the right steps forward, the artist Tsherin Sherpa with the curator-duo Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Hit Man Gurung present the exhibition Tales of Muted Spirits – Dispersed Threads – Twisted Shangri-La at the Nepal Pavilion. The excavation of Shangri-La myth set the course of the artwork in order to familiarise the audience with ancient wisdom, oral cultures and sacredness.
The country Kazakhstan successfully participates in the current edition of the Biennale, after a futile attempt in 2019. The ORTA Collective with the curator Meruyert Kaliyeva pays a tribute to the Russian avant-garde artist Sergey Kalmykov. In an interview with STIR, the Collective delves into the making of LAI-PI-CHU-PLEE-LAPA Centre for the New Genius, "It operates in the dimension of imagination and the dimension of a higher-order - we call it the fourth dimension. Based on the endless phantasmagorical worlds created by Sergey Kalmykov in his countless surrealistic texts and paintings, the New Genius states that the imagination is the door to the fourth dimension which is the dimension that manages the world and can lead to changes in the known third dimension that surrounds us." The installation is based on the art and life of Kalmykov who lived most of his life and died in Almaty. Living in total obscurity and loneliness, Kalmykov was of the view that his large body of art would immortalise him. For the Collective, it is extremely significant to disseminate the work of the artist who believed in the power of art and practiced it until the last days of his life against all odds.
The visual artist Firouz Farman Farmaian represents Kyrgyzstan, making its debut at the biennale. The 10-hand-stitched installation The Gates of Turan indicates the region of Tur, for which, as the artist informs STIR, “Decided to go all the way and bathe my psché in Kyrgyz pristine nomadic culture to pass on this message." The viewers are welcome to pick up a cushion as they step into the dark timeless vortex of the Gates of Turan installation. It is equalised by the vibration of the soundscape: a flute aligns to the sound that the earth emits into the universe - 432.1HZ. It sits under the Tunduk, the Kyrgyz Yurt Cupola, which is a gateway to the cosmos. This experiential nature of the installation is an immediate connection with the viewers. Farmaian explains the installation, "Accompanies a culture into the 21st century: transforming immemorial heritage, highlighting values related to the respect of mother earth, nature and spirituality."
The inaugural exhibition Destined Imaginaries at Oman Pavilion brings together the work of three generations of Omani artists whose practice spans five decades of modern and contemporary visual art in Oman. Each of the participating artists has proposed a range of ideas and hopes relating to our society, the environment, the future of art and themselves. The works are all rooted in aspects of Oman's identity, yet they carry the universal visual appeal. The Omani curator and art historian Aisha Stoby talks about the participation of, "Anwar Sonya, Hassan Meer, Budoor Al Riyami, Radhika Khimji and the late artist Raiya Al Rawahi, who have developed four new commissions inspired by the extraordinary events of the past two years. These directly respond to the question, "What would life look like without us?", asked by Cecilia Alemani, in her exhibition The Milk of Dreams. Venice presents an opportunity to showcase some of the artists who have pioneered Oman’s contemporary art movements on the world stage. “We hope that our participation will further activate Oman’s art ecosystems and inspire our younger artists,” mentions Stoby.
Kampala-based artists Acaye Kerunen and Collin Sekajugo inaugurate the debut edition of Uganda Pavilion with the exhibition Radiance – They Dream in Time. The curator of the pavilion, Shaheen Merali, says, "Both artists bring to this exhibition a post-independence perspective of Uganda through their art. Like two other ex-colonies from Britain, Tanzania and Kenya, Uganda endured the long process of recovering its pre-colonial modalities, amid many other battles for sovereignty."
Kerunen's collaborative work with a group of women artisans - natural fibre weavers who follow in the tradition of making utilitarian and decorative objects - has embraced the benefits of their often-intergenerational skills and knowledge transfer, from the perspective of a new generation. Sekajugo’s work examines and questions the notion of personal identity in a self-absorbed contemporaneity, re-imagining subjects from visual, oral, and digital culture, and transforming them into entirely new entities.
Radiance - They Dream in Time considers the notion of visual independence as expressed by Kerunen and Sekajugo. The work in the immersive exhibition illuminates the artists' shared conviction that the people are the foundation of the country, not the land, nor the geographical borders that delineate Uganda on the map," elucidates Merali.
The question around the potential of the art to bring about an efficacious shift in the working of the global dynamics or enable the onset of a new thinking amongst the citizens for betterment is commonly greeted with a hint of apprehension. Ambitious in its scale and multivariate in its scope, the nations making their debut at the 59th edition of the La Biennale di Venezia have dutifully sustained the necessity to expand the viewership in an effort to restore the meaning of producing and circulating art against the soaring polarisation across the globe.
The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams is open to the public from April 23-November 27, 2022, at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice.
Click here to read more about STIRring Dreams, a series of articles by STIR that explore some of the best presentations at this year's edition of the art biennale.