For over 120 years, the Venice Biennale has been the most prestigious international art exhibition in the world and this year South Africa is once again part of it. The 58th International Art Exhibition, which is curated by Ralph Rugoff and titled May You Live in Interesting Times, will see South African art exhibited within our country’s own pavilion in the tower-like building called Torre di Porta Nuova, in the Arsenale, a converted shipyard in the heart of the Biennale action.
Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale has today an attendance of over 500 000 visitors. When that first art exhibition was inaugurated, there were no national pavilions. The only permanent exhibition building that existed at the time was the sepulchral structure of the Central Pavilion, with its neo-classical columns and towering winged victory perched atop the pediment. National pavilions would arrive twelve years later with the Belgian Pavilion in 1907, followed by several others in successive years to where it stands today at nearly 95 pavilions.
South Africa’s history at the Venice Biennale since the advent of democracy really only started in 2011 when South Africa opened the doors to its own pavilion. Prior to this, SA had been expelled in 1968 and made a brief official appearance in 1993 and again in 1995.
In 2011, the curator for the SA Pavilion, Thembinkosi Goniwe, chose Mary Sibande, Lyndi Sales and Siemon Allen to represent South Africa. For the young Mary Sibande, the Venice Biennale was certainly a huge push towards international stardom. For her Venice outing, Sibande showed a new work called Lovers in Tango, which earned the multi-media artist invitations to exhibit her work extensively in Italy, France, America, Reunion Island and Holland.
This year’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale is titled The Stronger We Become and proudly features artists Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose and Mawande Ka Zenzile in a three-person exhibition running from 11 May to 24 November 2019 in Venice, Italy, curated by Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu.
To read more about the history of the Venice Biennale, purchase our May 2019 issue of Creative Feel or, to continue supporting our role in the South African arts and culture sector, subscribe to our monthly magazine from only R180.00 per year. SUBSCRIBE HERE!