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A look inside the Nigerian Pavilion: A Nation reimagines itself in Venice


The 60th International Venice Biennale welcomed Nigeria back to its prestigious stage with a dynamic showcase curated by Aindrea Emelife. Showcased at the Palazzo Canal–in the heart of Venice city– the pavilion, Entitled "Nigeria Imaginary," is carefully curated to explore the nation's multifaceted identity and history.


Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul, 2023. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Art Report Africa
Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul, 2023. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Art Report Africa

The exhibition goes into the collective consciousness of Nigeria, capturing a spirit of optimism grounded in its cultural heritage. Curator Emelife describes it as a vibrant exploration of legacies and aspirations.


“Nigeria Imaginary explores the many Nigerians that live in our minds, curated to capture a sense of optimism imbued in inherited and collective cultural history. Articulated through different perspectives and constructed ideas, mediums and disciplines, nostalgias for Nigeria and visions of the Nigeria that is yet to be; Nigeria Imaginary is a restless investigation of the legacies of the colonial past in today’s post-independence nation and a defiant imagining of a hopeful, youth-driven future.” Emelife explains.


Precious Okoyomon, Pre-Sky / Emit Light: Yes Like That, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA).
Precious Okoyomon, Pre-Sky / Emit Light: Yes Like That, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Art Report africa

Beginning with Precious Okoyomon's installation which transforms a radio tower into an instrument, the installation captures and broadcasts atmospheric conditions alongside confessions from Nigerian creatives.


As we move to the top floor of the pavilion, a diverse range of artists are spread across the floor plan. The exhibition features a thought-provoking display by Toyin Ojih Odutola as she reimagines the Mbari house, a post-independence hub of artistic expression, as both a physical space and a metaphor for creative freedom. While Abraham Oghobase's installation challenges the notion of objectivity in colonial-era written and photographic records, highlighting the exploitation of resources and labour; Ndidi Dike's two-part offering, "Blackhood: A Living Archive," serves as a powerful memorial and beacon of hope. It reflects on the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, drawing parallels with global struggles against police brutality.


Toyin Ojih Odutola, Left: Nwanyeruwa (Aba Women's Rebellion), 2023-2024; Center: Congregation, 2023; Right: Onye ụtụtụ (Morning Person), 2023. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)
Toyin Ojih Odutola, Left: Nwanyeruwa (Aba Women's Rebellion), 2023-2024; Center: Congregation, 2023; Right: Onye ụtụtụ (Morning Person), 2023. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)
Ndidi Dike, Blackhood: A Living Archive, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA)
Ndidi Dike, Blackhood: A Living Archive, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Art Report Africa

Fatimah Tuggar's AR, AI, and animatronic-infused piece explores the impact of colonisation and globalisation on indigenous crafts, housed within architectural facades inspired by Tubali Hausa vernacular architecture. In another section, we are invited into Onyeka Igwe's three-part audio-visual series which extends her exploration of colonial legacies. Here, she delves into the lingering effects of colonialism and the complex relationship between Nigeria and Great Britain, utilizing "sonic shadows" from film archives.


Fatimah Tuggar, Light Cream Pods (Excerpt), 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA).
Fatimah Tuggar, Light Cream Pods (Excerpt), 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Marco Cappelleti Studio. Courtesy: Museum of West African Art (MOWAA).

Finally, the pavilion presents a major sculptural installation by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. This work references the magnificent artworks from the Kingdom of Benin, looted by British forces in 1897, sparking a dialogue about cultural ownership and repatriation.


From established names like Yinka Shonibare, to talents like Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, whose works give a nod to both Nigerian artistic heritage and Venetian traditions, "Nigeria Imaginary" offers a rich tapestry of artistic expressions, prompting reflection on Nigeria's history, its current state, and its potential future. Through diverse mediums and powerful narratives, the exhibition challenges perceptions and ignites conversations about identity, resilience, and the enduring spirit of a nation.


Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Celestial Gathering, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia
Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Celestial Gathering, 2024. Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia

The Nigeria Pavilion goes beyond a static display. The "Nigeria Imaginary Incubator Project," launched in 2023, invited visitors to contribute their memories and dreams of Nigeria. Their voices are now woven into the exhibition, adding depth and personal narratives to the artworks.


The entire display transcends a typical exhibition, showcasing the power of art to bridge divides and spark the imagination. It celebrates Nigeria's rich cultural heritage while hinting at the boundless potential that lies ahead. Until November 24th, visitors can embark on this journey through Nigeria's past, present, and future.


For more information, visit Nigeria Imaginery

 

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A look inside the Nigerian Pavilion: A Nation reimagines itself in Venice

May 9, 2024

Obidike Okafor

3 min read

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