Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Venice Chronicles – Day 2

Tuesday 0500Hrs and coincidentally Bob Marley’s ‘Survival’ album is playing.

Soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionary, 'Cause I don't want my people to be contrary. And, brother, you're right, you're right… We'll 'ave to fight (we gon' fight)… Mash it up in-a Zimbabwe; Natty trash it in-a Zimbabwe; Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe; I'n'I a-liberate Zimbabwe.”

I quickly reconcile where I am and what am supposed to do so after a quick freshening up, coffee and fully charged gadgets, my partners in crime and I are off in search of the Zim Pavilion.

It’s a ten-minute slow walk to Santa Maria della Pieta Institute and we’re almost the first guests of the day. Zimbabwe is close to most Kenyan art practitioners thanks to earlier interactions with artists like Tapfuma Gutsa, Rashid Jogee, Chiko Chazunguza, Mambakwedza Mutasa and the pavilion curator Chinovava Chikukwa who recently facilitated a curatorial workshop in Kenya and offers us pro bono advice on matters art. For that we are eternally grateful.

We get to the second floor and after niceties with the pleasant hostess, tunafanya ile imetuleta hapa.

L to R - Charles Bhebe's 'Isndigo', Dana Whabira's 'Suspended in Animation', Admire Kamudzengerere & Sylvester Mubayi's 'Snail Crossing River' (Photos courtesy Michael Soi)

Have to give it up for the Zim team. They’ve been consistent over 4 biennales and are showing 4 artists – Sylvester MubayiCharles BhebeDana Whabira & Admire Kamudzengerere in their exhibition ‘Deconstructing Boundaries: Exploring Ideas Of Belonging.

It is a tight unit. The work shown, in relation to the space and how it’s presented works well. They even have a take-home glossy catalogue with all the information not only about the current pavilion, but also a history lesson of where they’re from artistically with recommendations on what to look at if interested more in them. Exactly why countries need to be on that podium. We leave happy with a bias to Whabira’s work.

Santa Maria della Pietta is home to 3 other country pavilions. We dash across to Mauritius as we have very good friends there. It’s a small space with not so friendly folk sitting in. Long story for another day on what kind of person should be in manning a country pavilion/exhibition.

L to R - Chimedjjor's 'I'm Bird' and Munkkh Ganbold's 'Karma of Eating'

Across the yard, is the national Pavilion of Mongolia. Their show “Lost In Tingri (Heaven)” has five artists exploring the urgencies of Mongolian contemporary society. It is well articulated and starts making sense as you engage the work. It’s a very minimalistic exhibition set in a small space but very strong content. It’s got all the fours of a good exhibition – beauty, seduction, tension & conversation.
As we leave, we now know there’s more to Mongolia than not-so-good football.

Next to Mongolia is the tiny principality with a reputation of being the European football whipping boys, but we shall stick to art. Andorra.

Eva Ariza's 'Murmur'
It’s a one-artist pavilion titled “Murmuri” and showing Eve Ariza’s work.
Murmuri is a reflection on a universal language, an in-depth research on the material in mutation and the origins of form and sound. Ariza works on the multiplication of the ceramic bowl as a container of truth and placidity. The project carries on the artist's battle against “bla”, the concept of overconsumption and overfeeding on images and sounds as tangibly the sole foundation of today's society
It’s a breathtaking installation that immerses the viewer deep into “bla”

It’s now hot, we’re hungry and everyone else is having that large beer while taking selfies at the restaurants next to Canal grande. Even us.

We find us at S.Stae at the Nigerian pavilion - “How About NOW?” It is their first ever pavilion and features 3 artists – Victor Ehikhamenor, Qudus Onikeku & Peju Alatise. Over lunch, the discussion had been on art from the African continent & gentrification and this show is somewhat an illustration to the conversation. I particularly like Alatise’s (and maybe Victor’s) work but I find the exhibition text quite embellished.

L to R - Peju Alatise's 'Flying Girls', Qudus Onikeku's 'Right Here, Right Now' and Victor Ehikhamenor's 'Biography Of The Forgotten. (Photos courtesy Michael Soi)
All the same, congrats 9ja.

We’re done for the day but stumble upon another pavilion. A stateless country referred to as NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst). It was conceived as a utopian formation, which would have no physical territory and would not be identified with any existing nation state. (

They have a very good set up where the floor slanting at about 30 degrees and the walls not upright which somewhat plays with your balance and makes it almost impossible to view the artworks.

The NSK Pavillion
Being stateless means their conversation is about migration and boundaries and the physically difficult space to navigate illustrates the bottlenecks of border crossings. It however changes when they start calling themselves ‘delegates’ and can’t draw a line whether it’s an art activity or sociological project.
They spoilt it more when they parade 2 young undocumented aliens from probably the most stable democracies in Africa to illustrate their cause. Another case of the sideshows spoiling the party.

By now, we’ve seen enough art and one of us is craving sugar free ice cream. It’s been a good day. Funny how you come with your to do list but the things you stumble upon end up being your most memorable.

South Africa & Damien Hirst are on today’s list but I am not underestimating Venice and its surprises. Maybe even Another Country.

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