Nige­ria makes its maiden ap­pear­ance at the Venice Bi­en­nale with a pavil­ion that rolls the past and fu­ture into a re­sound­ing present

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Nige­ria makes its Venice Bi­en­nale de­but ap­pear­ance

How About NOW?’, the t heme of the Nige­rian pavil­ion at the 57 th edition of the world’s big­gest art fes­ti­val, sounds slightly tongue-in-cheek: Nige­ria’s ar­rival at the Venice Bi­en­nale has been a long time com­ing. De­spite hav­ing a wealth of wor­thy artists to choose from, fund­ing chal­lenges and a change of govern­ment pre­vented Nige­ria from mak­ing the grand en­trance it had planned in 2015. But when it hap­pened it was al­ways go­ing to be one for the his­tory books. The par­tic­i­pat­ing crew com­prises three of the finest artists in Nige­ria, work­ing in a va­ri­ety of me­dia from sculp­ture to video and dance. The work by Vic­tor Ehikhamenor, Peju Ala­tise and Qudus Onikeku is dis­played over two floors of an 18th-cen­tury build­ing that was once home to Venice’s gold thread and gold leaf guild, be­side the church of Sant’eu­sta­chio. “It took a whole coun­try and then some to make this pavil­ion hap­pen,” says Aden­rele Sonariwo, a lead­ing light in the Nige­rian art world and cocu­ra­tor of the pavil­ion along­side the nov­el­ist and es­say­ist Em­manuel Iduma. “Nige­ri­ans from all walks of life and all over the world have pooled to­gether their time, en­ergy, re­sources to make this a re­al­ity.” The pavil­ion it­self was com­mis­sioned by God­win Obaseki, gover­nor of Edo State. A sign, per­haps, of govern­ment’s in­creas­ing in­ter­est in the arts as an in­dus­try. As one of 86 coun­tries show­cas­ing this year, Nige­ria joins An­gola, Côte d’ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Tu­nisia and Zim­babwe in rep­re­sent­ing the con­ti­nent. Hubs of artis­tic tal­ent and ex­po­sure have ex­isted across Nige­ria for decades, from Zaria in the north to Nsukka in the south. Con­se­quently, the cu­ra­to­rial re­search for the pre­sen­ta­tion was na­tion­wide, with the team comb­ing na­tional ar­chives to ar­rive at the col­lec­tive story it even­tu­ally de­cided to tell.


Back in Lag os, Son ariwo’ s Re.le gallery has po­si­tioned it­self as a sup­porter of both old and young tal­ents, in­ject­ing a

“It took a whole coun­try and then some to make this pavil­ion hap­pen”

fresh el­e­ment into ex­hi­bi­tions us­ing so­cial me­dia. Events show­cas­ing con­tem­po­rary art and new ad­di­tions like Art X La­gos have also be­come a reg­u­lar fea­ture, with in­creas­ingly dy­namic and vi­brant par­tic­i­pants and at­ten­dees. “The world has seen Nige­rian artists ex­cel as in­di­vid­u­als ,” said Sonariwo at the open­ing. “To­day, Nige­rian art­works sit in im­por­tant col­lec­tions all over the world. How­ever, with the Bi­en­nale we can present our­selves as a col­lec­tive strong voice. […] The world will know we are open for investment when it comes to the arts.” Eromo Eg­be­jule in Venice

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