By Prisca Sam-Duru
For the first time in history, Nigeria is making her debut National appearance in the Venice Biennale’s 57th edition, themed Viva Arte Viva (Long Live Art). This is one big news that gladdens the heart of artists, art lovers, stakeholders and art connoisseurs as this year’s participation heralds a new dawn for Nigerian arts and contemporary culture. Also with this, participation in subsequent Biennales is much more realisable and achievable.
The Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale is curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma, and commissioned by Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki with the support of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. Others in the Venice team include Wunika Mukan (Project Manager), Adenrele Sonariwo (Lead Curator, Nigeria In Venice) while Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Ike Chioke, Kavita Chellaram and Ade Adekola are Steering Committee Members.
The Venice Biennale is the oldest cultural biennale thatstarted in 1895, which has become one of the most prestigious large-scale art exhibitions, with countries officially represented by their pavilions. Sadly, there has been a lack of representation of the African continent at the Venice Biennale, with only 7 African countries out of 54 being represented.
Nigeria’s Pavilion is tagged How About Now? It presents the multidisciplinary practices of three contemporary Nigerian artists. How About Now? examines the notions of time and identity as the starting point for a reflection on the demands made by the present.
Victor Ehikhamenor, Peju Alatise, and Qudus Onikeku respond to the multifaceted way in which Nigerian contemporaneity may be conceived, through invocation of themes of history, fantasy, and memory, alongside more fundamental concerns related to nationhood and self-awareness. Also, as revealed by the organisers, Jelili Atiku will be performing at the Biennale.
“How About Now? evokes “now” as a term that encompasses a range of ideological possibilities, and which implies the new, modern, contemporary, and/or post-colonial. This pavilion is a framework for these possibilities—making a connection between the featured works of art and the milieu in which Nigerian artists work, and linking artistic imagination to the continuum of experience and complexity of national identity.”
This exhibition features new and recent works by the three artists. Edo State-born Victor Ehikhamenor, an award winning visual artist, writer and photographer, draws influences from traditional African motifs and cosmology. He exhibits 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, a mixed-medium artist with a degree in architecture and also a skilled poet and writer with several novels in publication, presents an installation of eight winged life-size girls. The installation is a concise meditation on the nature of survival, connoting a defiant journey into the imagination. Onikeku on his part, showcases a trilogy of dance films, presented as an investigation through dance of the workings of body memory and its connection to national consciousness.
Lead Curator of the exhibition, Denrele Sonariwo disclosed that the aim of the Nigerian Pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, “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.”
The exhibition which previews on the 10th of May, will be opened to the public on 13 May and runs till the end of November.