Nigeria makes its maiden appearance at the Venice Biennale with a pavilion that rolls the past and future into a resounding present
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.
LAGOS IS WHERE IT’S AT
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