Preview: first time national pavilions at the 57th Venice Biennale

Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati and Nigeria launch inaugural national pavilions at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Art Radar takes a look at the Venice Biennale newcomers to the 2017 edition, entitled “VIVA ARTE VIVA” and open to the public from 13 May to 26 November 2017.

57th Venice Biennale Banner Image. Image courtesy Venice International Art Exhibition.

57th Venice Biennale Banner Image. Image courtesy Venice International Art Exhibition.

VIVA ARTE VIVA is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists.

So reads the statement for the 2017 Venice Biennale, curated by Christine Macel. The 57th edition of the International Art Exhibition in Venice includes 84 national participations, three of which are joining for the first time: Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati and Nigeria will host inaugural national pavilion exhibitions. Art Radar takes a look at the plans for their presentations.

Frank Walter, Detail of 'Hitler Playing Cricket (with Antiguan Men)', 1953, oil on card. Image courtesy the Frank Walter Estate and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.

Frank Walter, Detail of ‘Hitler Playing Cricket (with Antiguan Men)’, 1953, oil on card. Image courtesy the Frank Walter Estate and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.

1. Antigua and Barbuda

For its first presence at the Venice Biennale, the Antigua and Barbuda Pavilion is taken over by the Antiguan artist Frank Walter, with a project entitled “The Last Universal Man”. Antiguan artist and writer Frank Walter (1926–2009) was an eccentric character now considered to be vastly under-recognised. Walter produced paintings that dealt with race, class and social identity, as well as abstract explorations of nuclear energy, portraits both real and imagined – including Hitler playing cricket, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana as Adam and Eve. Defying categorisation as an outsider or self-taught artist, Walter worked as a writer, composer, sculptor and painter, typically employing oil on rudimentary materials, with a marked immediacy and naivety. “The Last Universal Man” at the Antigua and Barbuda Pavilion is curated by academic Barbara Pace, who commented in a press statement:

Frank’s work as a planter, philosopher, writer and person who used artistic gifts as a form of therapy promises to be compellingly explored in Venice.

Performance Group Ngaon Nareau at the Red Beach in Betio, Tarawa, Kiribati (© Daniela Danica Tepes).

Performance Group Ngaon Nareau at the Red Beach in Betio, Tarawa, Kiribati (© Daniela Danica Tepes). Image courtesy the artist.

2. Kiribati

Kiribati is a small group of 33 paradise atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Due to the effects of global warming and the rising sea level, the mere existence of Kiribati is under threat – something the national pavilion seeks to reflect on with their exhibition “Ars longa, vita brevis! / sinking islands, unsinkable art” (or ‘E Kai Maunanako Te Aba, Te Rikia E Tei N Nene N Aki Kona Ni Bua’ in the Kiribati language). The exhibition at Palazzo Mora is a joint effort of 35 artists from different generations and art practices based in Kiribati. They combine typical elements of the Kiribati culture with contemporary art. Traditional performances by the Kairaken Betio Group and the Ngaon Nareau Performance Group, for example, will be seen in videos produced by visual artist Daniela Danica Tepes. The pavilion is curated by Pelea Tehumu and Nina Tepes, and also includes contributions from contemporary arts and crafts practitioners.

Portraits of artists: (from Top Left to Bottom Right) Qudus Onikeku, Peju Alatise, Victor Ehihkamenor, Wana Udobang. Image courtesy Nigeria Pavilion.

Portraits of artists: (from top left to bottom right) Qudus Onikeku, Peju Alatise, Victor Ehihkamenor, Wana Udobang. Image courtesy the artists.

3. Nigeria

Nigeria’s first ever participation at the Venice Biennale was in the 2016 Architecture edition, with the exhibition “Diminished Capacity”, which set out to examine the country’s past and the pressing need to rewrite history in order to move forward. For the International Art Exhibition in 2017, Nigerian artists Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, Qudus Onikeku and filmmaker Wana Udobang are showing works curated by Adenrele Sonariwo. Peju Alatise is a mixed-media artist and has practised as a studio artist for over 13 years, addressing social, political and gender issues as subject matters. Celebrated dancer and one of the most pre-eminent choreographers in Nigeria, Qudus Onikeku, creates a physical movement activity that fuses dance and acrobatics. Often inspired by his Yoruban culture, Onikeku’s artistic research work in Africa and internationally tends to explore themes of identity and exile. Wana is a multimedia journalist, poet and filmmaker whose work is at the intersection of women’s rights, personal narratives, culture and the arts. Her short film series “ROOM 313” has gained wide recognition. In 2016 she was long-listed for the One World Media award in the Women’s rights in Africa for her story on the Mirabel rape crisis centre for Aljazeera.

Rebecca Close

1618

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