Venice Biennale

Golden lions: why Armenia and El Anatsui deserved to win

The Republic of Armenia won the Golden Lion because it attempted to redefine the idea of a national pavilion. The exhibition meaningfully explored transnationalism by including artists solely from the Armenian diaspora. I don’t think the award commemorates the 1915 Armenian genocide, even though it was given on the centenary of the atrocity. It was awarded to the exhibition for intelligently articulating what Okwui Enwezor describes as “the current disquiet of our times” by unfolding the contours of complex, universal histories. The monastic island of San Lazzaro, with its diverse archives and historic collections, provided a rich context for the artists to challenge notions of responsibility and representation.

As one of Africa’s most celebrated artists, El Anatsui rightfully deserved the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The Ghanaian has been a pioneer for contemporary art locally and internationally, and has inspired generations of artists. Since this Biennale features the greatest number of African participants, it is important that El Anatsui is acknowledged for being a defining international figure. I echo the calls of many for this award to continue recognising non-Western artists. There is a critical need for this as the archaic and nationalistic structure of the Giardini and Arsenale provides little room otherwise.