Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, has made history for Nigeria by commissioning the country’s first-ever pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia located at the Scoletta dei Tiraoro e Battiori in Venice, Italy.
The Venice Art Biennale is world’s most prestigious and storied contemporary visual art exhibition. It is a defining platform where countries showcase their art stars and seek to exert some level of socio-cultural influence. The year’s event is themed Viva Arte Viva.
Speaking at the official commissioning of the pavilion, Obaseki noted: “art brings beauty into our world, giving us a sense of enjoyment and pleasure. But art is not all fun and personal gratification; it is central to social change! Through their expressive talent, artists can deepen knowledge of, as well as initiate positive changes in, a people‘s political, economic and moral life.”
“I am particularly excited about the exhibition not only because this is Nigeria’s first showing at the Biennale but also because it corresponds with the vision of Edo State and the Nigerian Federal Government to engender socio-cultural and economic development through the promotion of art and tourism.”
The Nigerian Pavilion will host the works of some of Nigeria’s most prominent contemporary artists, including renowned visual artists – Victor Ehikhamenor and Peju Alatise – and celebrated performance artist, Qudus Onikeku. Each artist will showcase a unique work centered on the theme ‘How About NOW?’
According to Adenrele Sonariwo, Lead Curator of the Nigerian pavilion: “The declared aim of the Nigerian pavilion is to reflect on the question of NOW, and of narratives firmly rooted in the present. The presentation by the artists expands an understanding of Nigerian contemporary life through installations, painting, and performance.”
“Their work seeks to use the narrative of the present to interrogate the minefield of societal consciousness in addressing aspects of identity and belonging as it relates to and confronts our past.”
Ehikhamenor’s exhibition will comprise large-scale installations fusing abstract shapes with traditional sculpture, informed by an investment in classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage. ‘The Biography of the Forgotten’ is the title of the installation, and it pays homage to those that came before, their contributions to the art world, from the classicists to the modernists.
Alatise presents an installation of eight winged life-size girls, based on the story of a ten-year old girl who works as a housemaid in Lagos while dreaming of a realm where she is free, who belongs to no one but herself, and can fly. “Flying Girls” addresses the injustice of the present, but through a vision of a safer imaginary future, especially for little girls.
Onikeku will showcase a trilogy of performance film titled ‘Right Here, Right Now’. The trilogy is an investigation through dance of the workings of body memory and its connection to national consciousness. It will be a triptych-of engagement, of contemplation, and of poetry. It will provide a window through which time could be altered for a brief moment.
Since 1895 when the first Art Beinnale was held, the promoters – La Biennale di Venezia – have stood at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organising exhibitions and research. The increase in the number of participating countries from 59 (in 1999) to 89 (in 2015) when the last edition was held underbellies the importance of the international art fiesta.
About 30 countries – including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany – have permanent pavilions in Venice, and some African nations like Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Mauritius and Seychelles have been represented at one time or the other.
The Nigerian exhibition ‘How About NOW?’ is supported by the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture, and it opens to the public from 13th May to 26th November, 2017.