Nigerian artists set to make history at the 57th Venice Biennale
The world’s most prestigious and storied contemporary visual art exhibition, Venice Arte Biennale, now in its 57th edition, will welcome a new guest in 2017 – Nigeria.
It may come as a surprise to some that Nigeria, rich in artistic, cultural talent and productivity is just enjoying her debut on art’s biggest global stage. The world has long known, enjoyed and benefitted from our country’s artistic riches. Why else do old Benin empire artefacts sit in museums in Europe and in the Americas today? Why else do works by Nigerian artists sell in international auctions at record-breaking prices? Yet, there’s arguably no fitting reflection of our nation’s cultural progeny.
It is this reasoning that informs the curatorial direction of Nigeria’s inaugural showing and the artists selected to interpret same, aptly titled, ‘How About Now?’
Adenrele Sonariwo, the lead curator explained that “the aim of the Nigerian Pavilion 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 Nigerian Pavilion will feature installations and performance, developed by two visual artists and one performance artist. The exhibiting artists are Victor Ehikhamenor, painter; Peju Alatise, sculptor; and Qudus Onikeku, dancer.
Ehikhamenor will present large-scale installations fusing abstract shapes with traditional sculpture, informed by an investment in classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage. ‘The Biography of the Forgotten’ is the title of the installation, which pays homage to those that came before, their contributions to the art world, from the classicists to the modernists.
Alatise will present an installation of eight winged life-size girls, based on the story of a ten-year old girl who works as a housemaid in Lagos while dreaming of a realm where she is free, who belongs to no one but herself, and can fly. “Flying Girls” addresses the injustice of the present, but through a vision of a safer imaginary future, especially for little girls.
Onikeku will showcase a trilogy of performance film titled ‘Right Here, Right Now’. The trilogy is an investigation through dance of the workings of body memory and its connection to national consciousness. It will be a triptych—of engagement, of contemplation, and of poetry. It will provide a window through which time could be altered for a brief moment.
Ultimately, the artists see their work as an immediate conversation with Nigerian time—a time dictated by a colonial past, but also refracted through the lens of what is imaginable besides that.
The Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale is curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma, and commissioned by Godwin Obaseki (Edo State Governor), with the support of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.