“Not quite” nations still have their place at the Venice Biennale
By Ermanno Rivetti.
In order to have an official pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a country needs to be formally recognised by the Italian government. While this makes it sound as if the world’s most prestigious art event has no place for “outsider” states such as Palestine and Tibet, the organisers have found a way around that. “Yes, [for pavilions] we only enter into official talks with governments and embassies, but the Biennale has always made room for other states in our ‘collateral’ section,” says its president Paolo Baratta.
Though not an official national pavilion, a collateral event is still part of the biennale programme and contributes to the “pluralism of voices and viewpoints” that the event has to offer, as Baratta describes it. Palestine is participating with “Otherwise Occupied”, a collateral exhibition with two Palestinian multimedia artists: Bashir Makhoul, the head of the University of Southampton’s Winchester School of Art, and Aissa Deebi, a founding member of the New York-based Middle Eastern cultural organisation, ArteEast, who divides his time between Cairo and New York. Their show will explore notions of identity, diaspora and geopolitics and can be seen throughout June at Palazzo Ca’ Giustinian Recanati. This is Palestine’s third participation in the biennale and has been commissioned by Al Hoash, the Jerusalem-based non-profit Palestinian organisation.
Tibet will also be taking part with an independent exhibition (not part of the official collateral programme), at the Church of Santa Marta, with the support of the city of Venice. So far only one participating artist has been named—the Swiss-Italian multimedia artist Ciriaca+Erre. She will present a video work that documents what happened when a group of Tibetan monks visited inmates from the overpopulated prison of Bollate, near Milan. Earlier this year the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, declared that overcrowding in several Italian jails, including Bollate, was in breach of the inmates’ basic human rights, as activists say China is denying Tibetans. Paolo Baratta thinks this is exactly what the Biennale needs: “Art without history or politics becomes a game.”
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