by Sukanya DebJul 04, 2022
The Venice Art Biennale (VAB), a festival on the frontline of the global art landscape, has acted as a portal for tremendous movement, collaboration and creation. Despite the overwhelming conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the VAB team ploughed through, managing to present us with a magnificent display this year. Through this process, the pandemic also inadvertently initiated the birth of Cypher Art Collective. The group of artists make their first-ever presentation at the Grenada National Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. In case you did not know, Grenada is a small island off the coast of North America, with a grand population of 1,13,000 residents as of 2020. Because of its relatively small size, the curatorial approach ropes in both local and international artists for the collaboration.
We spoke to the curator of the pavilion, Dr. Daniele Radini Tedeschi, about his own practice, as well as the unique process of putting together a creative collective. The pavilion itself has been commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, who appointed Dr Susan Mains as the commissioner of the Grenada Pavilion. The showcase is titled An Unknown that Does Not Terrify, referencing a quote by Eduoard Glissant, French philosopher and poet from the Caribbean Island of Martinique. He says, "We know ourselves as part and as crowd, in an unknown that does not terrify. We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone.”
Tedeschi’s curatorial practice follows a rather traditional approach, with a deep involvement in the historical aspects of the artworks themselves. He says, “It all starts with history, as every artistic manifestation is part of a broader discourse of cultural substance. Through confrontation and dialogue with artists, it is therefore possible to generate a polyphony, to constitute an orchestra where each instrument becomes fundamental to the overall harmony. My background, coming from Renaissance and Baroque art, has never precluded me from approaching the languages of contemporaneity.” For this showcase, Tedeschi selected a total of 13 artists including Oliver Benoit, Billy Gerard Frank, Ian Friday, Asher Mains, Susan Mains, Angus Martin, Samuel Ogilvie, Giancarlo Flati, Identity Collective, Anna Maria Li Gotti, Nino Perrone, Rossella Pezzino de Geronimo, Marialuisa Tadei. Together, this diverse group form the Cypher Art Collective.
Mains, the commissioner of the project, selected the artists listed above after consideration of their creative practice over a long period of time. Tedeschi tells us, “They (the artists) investigate their identity and at the same time the fact that one must understand the other in order to understand oneself: so, there is this double reflection about one's own and another's identity. In addition, Grenada artists bonded well with other international artists who had been working for years on the same issues and who have connections with Grenada, because they have spent a lot of time there or have relatives from there.” In the past, the visual artists from Grenada who have participated, have been chosen through an application and vetting process, then a contemporary exhibition in Grenada. It had been an open call for artists living anywhere in the world. However, with the limitations that the pandemic made, for the first time, a collective of artists has been commissioned to represent Grenada.
The artists selected come from a spectrum of geographical locations, bringing along their own artistic values as well. The challenge of presenting artists with a diverse toolkit in terms of media, form and concept can present the artist with quite a balancing act for the curator. Tedeschi tells us how the artworks tie together saying, "The fil rouge that connects all the works exhibited is the rediscovery of the self through the relationship with the other. Starting from the ideas of the Martinican poet and philosopher, Edouard Glissant, the exhibition aims to reflect on the “right to opacity”, which is the right to “not be totally understood and not totally understand the other person”, and to the recognition of the complex relationship between individuals and communities in contemporary societies. This topic is related to the dimension of the journey, seen as an encounter and a rediscovery. Therefore, the works are dedicated to the exploration of universal topics such as multi-ethnicity, multilingualism and the enhancement of cultural, ethnic, and social components that constitute the foundation of contemporary communities.” Therefore, the message embodied here is contingent on one core value, at least through the view from my own scratched up glasses - acceptance. To not seek to change, transform, reform or appropriate the other in any way is acceptance. This can truly be a challenge for anyone, and is probably even more so in the light of the data heavy, information overloaded age we live in today where transparency is both sought out, and also provided in many ways. Glissant’s emphasis on our right to opacity reminds us that acceptance with love is greater than understanding with intellect.
Tedeschi continues saying, “The artists of the Grenada Pavilion use their art to imagine a world where peaceful interaction between cultures and peoples is possible and where human rights are respected. A key concept is that it is necessary to operate a self-transformation to understand the other and to be understood, even if not in a complete way. The notion of the self is not a universal definition or concept given once and for all, but is subject to change and mutation, as is the term population or ethnicity. One must be open to the other, and in this relationship of reciprocity between the self and the we, a constant enrichment and evolution of society arises.”
The Grenada Pavilion embodies diversity, in its artist selection as well as artwork curation. This is reflective of the Carribean country’s culture and values. The curator discusses further, “The Grenadian territories have undergone several colonisations by Spanish, French and English, as suggested by the country's name, which evokes the Spanish city of Granada. The intermingling of traditions, cultures and habits has generated an aesthetic language of a multi-ethnic nature and this is also evident in the tradition of the ‘Shakespeare Mas’, which takes place on the small island of Carriacou, during the Carnival. The Shakespeare Mas is paradigmatic of the show's concept because it is made up of elements from different ethnicities and traditions: from Shakespeare who comes from the Anglo-Saxon world to the play Julius Caesar, set in the Roman world, to the use of the mask that comes from Venice, to the elements derived from French, English and Spanish colonisation that are intermingled with native elements. It is therefore in the spirit of the exhibition not to fence in but to respectfully embrace different elements and traditions.” The artists in the collective have in their research found the influence of west Africa, France, England, Scotland and even Venice in Italy. The purpose of the pavilion is to portray this synthesis in a way that embraces contemporary visual art. It is not a display of anthropology, but a starting point for the imagination.
This is the fifth consecutive time Grenada has participated as an official National Pavilion in the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. The showcase will be on view until November 27, 2022.
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.