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Beyond the Biennale: African Art Thrives in Venice

While the national pavilions remain the grand dame of the Venice Biennale, a vibrant ecosystem of collateral events pulsates around them. This year, African artists are making a strong showing beyond their designated spaces, offering a diverse range of perspectives that challenge and complement the central exhibition.



installation image of “Passengers in Transit” | Credit Art Report Africa Team
installation image of “Passengers in Transit” | Credit Art Report Africa Team

 

Urban rhythms in abstract form


Ethiopian-American artist Julie Mehretu takes center stage at Palazzo Grassi with a career-spanning retrospective, "Ensemble." The exhibition, co-curated by Mehretu herself, delves into 25 years of her artistic journey, showcasing her signature style of layered abstractions that pulsate with the energy of urban landscapes. Think translucent veils of paint and paper obscuring and revealing, hinting at architectural fragments, graffiti marks, and the intricate dance of city life. Mehretu's work transcends mere aesthetics, offering a captivating exploration of the dynamism inherent in the modern metropolis.

‘Ensemble’ is curated by Caroline Bourgeois.



Installation view of Julie Mehretu. Ensemble, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2024. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. © Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection
Installation view of Julie Mehretu. Ensemble, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2024. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. © Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection


Installation view of Julie Mehretu. Ensemble, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2024. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. © Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection
Installation view of Julie Mehretu. Ensemble, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2024. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. © Palazzo Grassi, Pinault Collection


Julie Mehretu, “Ensemble”.Palazzo Grassi. March 17–June 1


 

Turning E-waste into art


Elias Sime, another Ethiopian artist, takes a very different approach at Tanarte. His exhibition, "Dichotomy ፊት አና ጀርባ" (Amharic for "Front and Back"), delves into the intricate relationship between humanity, technology, and nature. Here, the focus is on repurposed technological detritus. Motherboards, wires, and discarded computer parts transform into mesmerizing sculptural installations, woven and braided together. Sime's work isn't just visually striking; it critiques our digital age, reflecting on the environmental impact of technology with a powerful message on sustainability.



ELIAS SIME Tightrope: Dichotomy 5, 2023-24 Electrical components and electrical wires on wooden panel 91 x 142 x 9 in 231.1 x 360.7 x 22.9 cm
ELIAS SIME Tightrope: Dichotomy 5, 2023-24 Electrical components and electrical wires on wooden panel 91 x 142 x 9 in 231.1 x 360.7 x 22.9 cm

‘Dichotomy’ is co-curated by Meskerem Assegued and Felicity Korn,

Elias Sime, “Dichotomy ፊት አና ጀርባ”. Tanarte. Apr. 20–Nov. 24



 

Black Female identity in a globalized world


Moving beyond individual artists, the 193 Gallery, a Parisian tastemaker, presents "Passengers in Transit" at its Venice space. Curated by the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, this group show brings together five women artists of African descent. Taking its cue from the Biennale's main theme, the exhibition explores themes of cross-cultural identity through the lens of the Black female body. From Thandiwe Muriu's playful photography to April Bey's bold textile collages, the works in "Passengers in Transit" ask profound questions about belonging and self-expression in a world where borders are increasingly porous.



Image Courtesy: Art Report Africa Media Team
Image Courtesy: Art Report Africa Media Team

“Passengers in Transit” is curated by Paula Nascimento, Oyindamola Faithful, and Roger Niyigena Karera. (“Passengers in Transit”. 193 Gallery. April 20–November 24)



 


These are just a few examples of the rich tapestry of African art on display at the 2024 Venice Biennale. By venturing beyond the national pavilions, visitors can discover a multitude of voices and artistic expressions that challenge our perceptions and offer fresh perspectives on the complexities of our contemporary world.


Article by Obidike Okafor

 


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Beyond the Biennale: African Art Thrives in Venice

April 22, 2024

Obidike Okafor

2 min read

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