Importance of being at the Venice Biennale

WITH the curtain set to come down on the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale, Zimbabwe’s pavilion has been named among the 10 Best National Pavilions.
The Venice Biennale, often referred to as the “Olympics of the Arts world”, opened in April this year and officially ends on November 27.
The rating ranks Zimbabwe among Germany, Great Britain, Serbia, Singapore and the United States of America, among others taking part in the global art showpiece.
In 2013 Angola landed the major prize, the prestigious Golden Lion Award for the best national pavilion and much of Africa celebrated as if all of them had been awarded the accolade.
Nine African countries out of the continent’s 54 nations were present at the 2022 Venice Biennale. They are Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
It was the first time Cameroon and Namibia have participated.
For Zimbabwe, the recognition highlights the standard and level of arts by the artists who represented the country.
Artists Kresiah Mukwazhi, Wallen Mapondera, Ronald Muchatuta, Terence Musekiwa and curator Fadzai Muchemwa represented Zimbabwe.
During the six months Zimbabwe has been at the Venice Biennale, its pavilion has attracted more than 65 000 visitors, a huge number to impress positively on the country’s image perception, at a time Zimbabwe is scaling up its engagement and re-engagement drive on the international arena.
Stressing the importance of being at the Venice Biennale, the Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, Dr Kirsty Coventry, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr Thokozile Chitepo, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Dr Solomon Guramatunhu, and other high-ranking officials were in Venice to lend weight to the country’s presence at the global arts showpiece.
“The country’s visibility at the Venice Biennale and many other international fairs should continue for local artists, who are critical thinkers, to continue to be Zimbabwean ambassadors across the globe,” explained the ministry in an assessment of the country’s participation.
“Zimbabwe must be proud of itself as a country for its continued presence at global and cultural centres. All that is needed is to remain focused and invest with an understanding of the visual arts contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.”
While African countries have increasingly been visible in Venice in recent years, lack of funding has hampered participation by more nations.
Cameroonian curator, Simon Njami, attributes the low participation by African countries to the fact that African nations have not fully grasped and understood the potency of art as a soft and efficient political tool.
Art collectors and galleries are flying in and out of Zimbabwe in search of Zimbabwean artists and arts. Therefore, the next step should be to collect all the data and try to establish how an art ecosystem can be created in Zimbabwe.
Over recent decades, prices for modern and contemporary art from Africa have witnessed a phenomenal increase, making the category one of the fastest growing in the market.
Among the questions raised so far, has been one on the role of financial institutions in supporting the arts. Banks, it is pointed out, need to ask themselves why the Swiss Bank has an art collection; why German banks have art collections; why JP Morgan has an art collection, why the FNB in South Africa has an art collection, and why all these are major sponsors of international art fairs.
Banks and financial institutions support most of the biggest art fairs across the globe. They have contributed to the global art ecosystem to which Zimbabwean banks are turning a blind eye.
Contemporary art in Africa is fetching higher prices than ever, but art professionals say there is not an equivalent investment in programmes to support and promote it.
The argument being made is that it is time local banks rethink the scope of their investments. The arts is one such area.
Zimbabwe is one of the few African countries that has consistently participated at the Venice Biennale since 2011, being fully funded by the Government.
The Venice Biennale is one of the biggest biennale (correct) in the world and the 2022 edition was the sixth time to do so but crucially the first time that the minister responsible for the arts attended.
Some of the local artists, who previously showcased at the Zimbabwe pavilion at the Venice Biennale, have now graduated to the main exhibition at the Biennale. Portia Zvavahera and Kudzanai Violet Hwami participated at the main showpiece, called “The Milk of Dreams”, with Zvavahera being described as one of three emerging talents from Southern Africa.
The two Zimbabweans were among 213 other international artists from 58 countries exhibiting in the main exhibition, “The Milk of Dreams”, curated by renowned Italian curator, Cecilia Alemani.
The participation of Hwami and Zvavahera is a result of their exposure when they were part of the Zimbabwean pavilion. Their exposure to an international audience at the Venice Biennale opened new horizons for them and Zimbabwean art.
In the past, the presence of African countries at the Venice Biennale was through representation (microphone), something that has gradually come to be viewed as totally inadequate.
“African contemporary art today does not need microphones (representation). The continent cannot continue to remain passengers in its own ship. The Venice Biennale today provides Africa with an opportunity to tell her own story and narratives,” argues the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
“It is important for countries and their artists to represent themselves and in the first Zimbabwean pavilion in 2011, the country was able to assert and represent itself. Today, Zimbabwean artists are on even bigger platforms across global cultural centres like Berlin, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos, London, Lyon, New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo and many others,” explained the ministry.
Zimbabwean artists continue to shine at big fairs, as is the case of Misheck Masamvu at the Sydney Biennale.
Raphael Chikukwa, the Executive Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ), describes Zimbabwe’s participation at the Venice Biennale for the sixth time since 2011 as a huge milestone not only for the gallery but also for the country and its artists.
“We are one of the African countries fully funded by the Government and brand Zimbabwe continues to shine at the Venice Biennale. The Venice Biennale today provides us with an opportunity to tell our own stories, not for those that want to remain our teachers. It’s important for countries and their artists.
“The take-aways remain that we need to continue this dream project and Zimbabwe pavilion remains a soft power. We want to get more than two artists in the main show and it is possible. We remain one of the most visible country pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Our mission is to always show our Venice Biennale audiences something new coming out of our great country.”
The works that were exhibited at the Zimbabwean pavilion at the Venice Biennale will now go on a tour of the country.
Caption 1: Minister Kirsty Coventry viewing the work of some of Zimbabwe’s artists at the Venice Biennale.
Caption 2: Kresiah Mukwazhi’s installation of bras as a symbol of resistance.
Caption 3: Visitors to the Zimbabwe pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which ends in November.

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