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In Venice, a contrasting African presence
By Roxana Azimi POSTED 26 June 2019
Translated from French using Google Translate
"May you live in interesting times", enjoins the international exhibition of the 58th Venice Biennale. In addition to Ralph Rugoff's proposal, which brings together some of the world's leading artists such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Zanele Muholi, Julie Mehretu and Michael Armitage, the African presences reflect the different levels of artistic soft power of the continent. From Ghana, which presents artists from the diaspora in a scenography signed by one of the most famous architects on the planet, in Madagascar who takes an "outrenoir" solo show supported by the highly respected Revue Noire, there are certainly presences brave but a little wobbly like Ivory Coast or Zimbabwe, "clandestine" pavilions like Algeria or the Egyptian kitsch.
She has dreamed about it for eighteen years. Nana Offoriatta Ayim's wish to see Ghana participate in the Venice Biennale is granted thanks to a perfect alignment of the planets. The country, which is growing by 6% a year, wants to boost tourism and bring back the diaspora. As a result, the public allocation for tourism and culture has increased by 120% between 2014 and 2018. We come back from afar, as Ghana has been weakened by repeated coups and chronic monetary instability. "With the previous government, this would not have been possible," admits the young curator who carried the project with the Anglo-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye. Despite the contribution of public subsidies, project promoters also had to raise private funds. Obstacle course ? "Since I live in Accra, I have become used to it. Of course.
At Arsenal, where the pavilion has taken a foothold, the result is simply breathtaking, served by David Adjaye's wave design. With a close eye, the course respects parity and intergenerational dialogue by summoning local big names such as Felicia Abban, Ghana's first female professional photographer, and tenor of the diaspora. Dominated by the epic and ecological breath of John Akomfrah's latest film, the exhibition opens with an installation composed of burlap and cages to smoke the fish of Ibrahim Mahama and ends with the splendid metal hangings of El Anatsui.
A few hundred meters away, a change of chromaticism in the pavilion of Madagascar, where Joël Andrianoenmeariso's black work, composed of 50,000 crumpled rice papers, composes a dreamlike architecture and a labyrinth of the unconscious. The artist knows it, his presence in Venice is as much miracle as perseverance. "The Venetian machine is heavy and it took several letters from the Malagasy Ministry, I had to make a nationalist speech for this pavilion exists, not behind curtains, but in fine sheets," says the artist, who has could enjoy a defection in the Arsenal. There is no question of asking for public funds from a country that has many other things to whip up. No question either of playing "the poor country begging," says the artist supported by the Revue noire.
Pavilion of South Africa Photo © Italo Rondinella
KITSCH, MIRACLES AND PERSEVERANCE
If Ghana and Madagascar stand out, six other African nations this year beat the pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Reflecting the economic and political situation of nations and their degree of commitment to art, the proposals follow each other and are not alike. Egypt enjoys a permanent space within the Giardini where the participating First Nations of this High Mass are located. Despite this rent situation and quality artists, the country purrs with choices that at best go unnoticed, at worst, are a pathetic kitsch, as this installation of golden sphinx whose nose extend into TV screens ... disappointment is even greater than in 2017, the beautiful film of Moataz Nasr seemed to promise a change of course.
South Africa has had its ups and downs. After a few mistakes, she managed to consolidate its presence by renting for twenty years a place in the Armory of the Arsenal. Notwithstanding the very late announcement of the names of curators and artists, this edition is undoubtedly one of the most successful, carried by an enchanted film of the unclassifiable Tracey Rose. In spite of its political and economic tensions, Zimbabwe has not given up its fifth participation, maintained by forceps. On the menu, paintings at the crossroads of the black and queer identities of star Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and the textile sculptures of Georgina Maxim, rustling with a thousand secrets.
Ghana Pavilion Photo © Italo Rondinella.
Persist and sign too, Seychelles and Mozambique, but in formats so low-cost they do not stand out. Ivory Coast, which had already occupied the field in 2013 and 2017, is also back, with a privileged location this time, facing the yachts anchor near Arsenal. If Ernest Dükü's drawings and Valérie Oka's paintings save a little bit, the presence of a Chinese painter seems totally out of place, as was the case two years ago, that of an Italian artist ...
Some countries have however disappeared from the Venetian map. This is the case of Angola, which had yet won the Golden Lion in 2013, but also Tunisia and Nigeria, who had participated once and only in 2017. Despite the cancellation at the last minute Of the Algerian pavilion, the five artists chosen by Helal Zoubir have maintained their presence in a rented area not far from the Giardini.
The fact remains that a participation in this high mass, even if it is noticed, is not enough to install permanently a country on the international chessboard. "We must not do only the event and the one shot," insists Raphael Chikukwa, curator of the Zimbabwe pavilion. What Africa needs is continuity. Nanna Offoriatta Ayim adds: "It is hoped that the Ghana Pavilion will finally lay the foundations for a future museum". Cruel paradox, Morocco has museums, artists, galleries and even a fair. When will you see a pavilion in Venice?
Biennale of Venice, until November 24th.
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