Angola marks Venice Biennale debut with a victory

Angola, exhibiting for the first time at the Venice Biennale, has been awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for the best national pavilion. Curated by Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera, the exhibition, which was commissioned and supported by the Angolan Ministry of Culture, features a selection of photography, painting and sculpture in a novel setting.
Being a newcomer to Venice, Angola has had to rent an exhibition venue for the duration of the exhibition, which runs until November 24. Rather than follow the lead of Zimbabwe and Kenya, which inhabit temporary venues on the busy tourist promenade between the gardens and St Mark’s Square, Angola is showing its artists in Cini Palace, a plush historic building near Accademia Bridge, a busy tourist destination.
Defying the odds – and some stiff competition from the French, German, Danish and Romanian pavilions, all of which generated art world buzz, and long queues – Angola succeeded Germany as holder of the top honour of best pavilion.
Angola’s pavilion was selected for the way it reflected on “the irreconcilability and complexity of site”. Split across two levels, the show begins with a purposefully awkward juxtaposition of mass-produced posters by Edson Chagas, displayed on 23 palettes, inserted into a lavishly wallpapered series of rooms filled with cordoned-off collection of early Renaissance art and domestic objects.The exhibition continues upstairs where there is a display of orthodox wood sculptures and paintings describing aspects of Angola’s creative output since 1991.
Alongside Angola and Zimbabwe, four other African states – Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya and South Africa – are also hosting national pavilions at this year’s Venice Biennale.
After more than a half-century at Venice, albeit in an on-off manner, South Africa has finally secured a permanent venue. The visibility of African art at Venice – as elsewhere in Europe – is the outcome of longstanding social activism and intellectual agitation.
Africa’s diverse presence at this year’s Venice Biennale, which includes South African photographer Santu Mofokeng’s participation in the German Pavilion and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee being advertised as the curator the Belgian Pavilion, happens at a time of self-actualisation for the continent. (Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg)


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