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Nigeria to participate at Venice Biennale first time in 47 years

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A group comprising art patrons, investors and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has succeeded in getting the country into the Venice Biennale for the first time ever.

NIGERIA is going to Venice! For a country with a vibrant visual arts sector and world renowned artists/art scholars, it is surprising that this year’s outing, the 57th edition of the over a century –old Venice Biennale, will be Nigeria’s first participation at the global art meeting.

Though artist and architect, Oladele Kuku, participated at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2015, the main art exhibition has never featured Nigeria officially. Happily, this will change this year.

The project manager of Nigeria in Venice, Wunika Mukan, disclosed that the country’s journey to the Venice Biennale themed Viva Arte Viva “has been one of great perseverance” in reference to the efforts it has cost the steering committee to realise the dream.

She said that the Nigerian Pavilion is themed How About Now and will be curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma.

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Two visual artists, Victor Ehikhamenor and Peju Alatise, and performance artist, Qudus Onikeku, will represent Nigeria at the exhibition which previews on May 10, opens to the public on May 13 and runs till the end of November.

Mukan acknowledged the support of the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, who commissioned the Nigerian pavilion in Venice, partners and the steering committee for “knowing that collaborating and creating new opportunities will add tremendous value to the art scene in Nigeria and Africa.”

Ade Adekola, a member of the steering committee, explained that the country’s involvement, “will herald a new dawn for Nigerian arts and contemporary culture.

It will also make the participation in subsequent Biennales that much more realisable and achievable.”

Femi Lijadu explained that the Edo helmsman keyed into the vision to give Nigeria voice on the international scene and because of his long-term goal of repositioning Edo as an important arts and culture centre.

Ike Chioke, another steering committee member and an official of Afrinvest, disclosed how funding was secured for the project.

Chioke said that about half of the needed N400 million has been secured and expressed confidence that the remaining would be got.

Curator Sonariwo disclosed that the aim of the Nigerian Pavilion in Venice “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 and future.”

On how the three artists were selected, she said: “We did our research and realised that countries have various approaches in determining who participates on behalf of their respective countries.

We took a cue from the British Pavilion which has participated since 1907.

The curatorial team nominated the artists, accomplished artists of repute both locally and abroad, who are able to deliver an exhibition worthy of Nigeria’s first showing.

We looked at the artists’ CV, their track record, where they are career-wise and also how well they can respond and execute on the curatorial direction How About NOW?”

Ehikhamenor will present, “The Biography of the Forgotten,” a large-scale work fusing abstract shapes with traditional sculpture, informed by an investment in classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage.

Alatise, on her part, will present Flying Girls, an installation of eight winged life-size girls, based on the story of a 10-year old girl, who works as a housemaid in Lagos while dreaming of a realm where she is free and can fly.

Onikeku will showcase Right Here, Right Now a trilogy of performance films, presented as an investigation through dance of the workings of body memory and its connection to national consciousness.

On why performance art was included in Nigeria’s presentation, Sonariwo said: “We believe strongly that art is not just one thing, and even in the larger sense, the Curator of the Venice Biennale, Christine Macel, selected a performance artist [Jelili Atiku] from Nigeria to participate in the Biennale.”

Source: Nigeria Tribune | Image credit: Artnet News

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