Writer and PR Consultant Lee Sharrock has selected eight of the best collateral events taking place in Venice during the 59th Biennale.
1. This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky opened an exhibition at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice last Thursday titled, ‘This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom’. The exhibition is presented by the Pinchuk Art Centre and Victor Pinchuk Foundation in partnership with the office of the President of Ukraine and the country’s Ministry of Culture.
Zelensky spoke via video link at the opening, saying: “Art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise…I am sure the exhibition will allow people to feel what it means for Ukraine to defend freedom. To feel the bond between all free people on planet Earth and Ukraine. To feel that each and every one of you can support the fight for freedom – one and the same freedom for everybody. Support us with your art, but also support us with your words and your influence.”
The exhibition includes two paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Primachenko (1909-1997), which were saved in February 2022 by a local man from the Ivankiv Historical & Local History Museum in Lviv before it was burnt to the ground by Russian forces. The Primachenko paintings were escorted out of Ukraine to Venice by police guard along with a 17th Century icon of the Virgin Mary, believed to be by Stefan Medytsky. Also featured in the exhibition are a deeply moving series of pages printed from a moving war diary written by Kyiv resident and artist-writer Yevgenia Belorusets (b. 1980, Ukraine) every day since war broke out in Ukraine, displayed with photographs taken during the conflict on school desks positioned in rows. These works of art have become emblematic of the war in Ukraine, which fears its culture will be wiped out during the conflict.
Also featured are paintings in the colours of the Ukraine flag by Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst, a light installation ‘Your Lost Lighthouse’ by Olafur Eliasson, an emotional split-screen film by Marina Abramovic referencing the Serbian conflict, a series of photographs of mothers who lost their sons in the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014-2015, and JR’s giant photograph of five-year old Valeria, a refugee from Kryvvi Rih, who is one of more than 4 million Ukrainian children forced to flee Ukraine since war broke out. The monumental tarp depiciting Valeria was unfurled by 100 volunteers in Lviv, and reproduced on the cover of TIME magazine.
The exhibition is at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, Sestiere Cannaregio, 3599, 30121 Venice, until August 7th, 2022
There is also an official Biennale Ukrainian Pavilion at the Arsenale featuring ‘The Fountain of Exhaustion’, an installation by artist Pavlo Makov constructed of funnels arranged in a triangle with water dripping through, described by the artist as a metaphor for “the exhaustion of humanity, the exhaustion of democracy. Plus, a temporary pavilion in the Giardini featuring a pile of sandbags mirroring the sandbags in Ukraine that are currently being used in Ukraine to protect artworks, juxtaposed with a structure covered in posters of war-related artwork. Not far from the temporary Ukrainian Pavilion in the Giardini stands the locked and empty Russian Pavilion, a metaphor for the isolation of Russia by the global community as the war on Ukraine continues.
2. Alia Ali @ 193 gallery
Award-winning Yemeni-Bosnian-American multi-media artist Alia Ali exhibits with Aldo Chaparro in ‘Or was it a dream’ at Parisian gallery 193’s first Venetian outpost. The title of the 193 gallery exhibition echoes the theme of the 2022 Venice Biennale’ Il Latte dei Sogni’ (‘The milk of dreams’), and inaugurates ‘Colore e Materia’, the 193 Gallery’s first cycle of exhibitions in Venice.
For Ali’s Venice debut exhibition, she is exhibiting works from her WARP and FLOW photographic portrait series, where she camouflages her sitters in traditional textiles from some of the countries she has visited or has a personal connection to. The result is to present to the viewer anonymous, genderless figures that could be seen as a metaphor for the misguided ownership of people during colonialism or the more contemporary issue of people fleeing conflict or climate change-induced environmental disasters being treated as invisible ‘migrants’.
Alia Ali lives and works in Los Angeles and Marrakech, where she first met her mentor, Hassan Hajij. Ali’s multi-layered work examines themes of displacement, racism, colonialism and identity whilst aiming to preserve the craftsmanship and textile traditions of artisans in communities that are dying out due to conflict or cultural appropriation.
Ali’s unique oeuvre critiques gender and racial prejudice and inherited political structures and narratives whilst attempting to counteract cultural binaries and confront preconceived and outdated ideas of gender and citizenship.
A graduate of Wellesley College and the California Institute of the Arts, Ali has travelled to 67 countries and exhibited globally. Her work can be found in private collections and public institutions, including the British Museum in London and Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey.
Alia Ali explains about the journey that led her to become an artist: “In 1992 the way broke out in Yugoslavia, the Genocide, and there was also the war in Yemen. Between 1992 and 1995, none of us had papers, so we were unable to move. The war ended in 1995, and then in 1998, we went to Detroit because my Grandfather was there. It was before September 11th, so were able to get papers through him. Then I went to school at Wellesley College and ended up studying political science. I chose not to do law, because I realised that if I studied law I would work in my coloniser’s language, and law was really about finding one truth. You have to accept one truth, and that truth was not written for me or people like me. And I realised that for the rest of my life, I would be defending a position, rather than starting a new narrative altogether. And as an artist, I think that artists are actually Futurists. We are beginning new conversations and new dialogues. And I found that more interesting.”
‘Aldo Chaparro & Alia Ali…or was it a dream?’ is at 1993 gallery, Dorsoduro 556, Venezia 30123 until 22 June, 2022
3. The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined at Palazzo Bembo
Myrtis Bedolla, founding director of Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore MD, has curated a breathtaking group exhibition at the European Cultural Centre in Palazzo Bembo. Titled ‘The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined’, the exhibition groups together 8 artists who are reclaiming the inequality of white art history from the point of view of a black narrative, providing a visual exploration of the socio-political concerns of African Americans.
The artists: Tawny Chatmon, Larry Cook, Morel Doucet, Monica Ikegwu, M. Scott Johnson, Delita Martin, Arvie Smith and Felandus Thames, provide new and refreshing points of view that remedy the blinkered representational racial imbalance of modern and contemporary art, whilst championing the creativity, resilience and spirituality that has sustained Black people through some of the darker periods of history.
Tawny Chatmon’s magical photographic portraits of black youths overlaid with gold leaf and paint are particularly transfixing visually, and they reimagine the symbolism of the 19th Century Austrian Successionist painter Gustav Klimt for a more racially equal contemporary audience, by replacing the misogyny of the white male gaze.
‘The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined’ is at Palazzo Bembo, Venice until November 27, 2022
4. Raqib Shaw’ Palazzo della Memoria’ at the International Gallery of Modern Art.
Raqib Shaw’s solo show ‘Palazzo della Memoria’ (Palace of Memory) was more than 2 years in the making and is a veritable jewel of an exhibition showcasing exquisite craftsmanship and artistry. Curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibition features 12 luminous paintings inspired by dramatic and tragic events in the artists’s life, including fleeing from conflict in his native Kashmir, the death of his cousin in a car crash, losing his beloved dogs, and a devastating fire in his studio. The paintings feature imagery of an Alpine-inspired rockery that Shaw constructed in the garden of his South London home and studio, during 2 years of lockdowns, to remind him of the beautiful Kashmiri gardens of his childhood.
Raqib Shaw commented: “At the time of the lockdown, since everything was closed (apart from the nurseries) I thought that I would transform the courtyard of my home, and I decided to create a rockery from scratch with 17,000 tons of soil and then rock, and all the pieces of driftwood that I found in parks all over.”
Shaw’s new paintings were made especially for Venice, and reference the Italian pictorial tradition, in particular the Venetian Masters Tintoretto and Giorgione. Shaw is inspired by Tintoretto’s ‘Santa Maria Egiziaca’ (‘Saint Maria Egiziaca’) (1582–87) and ‘la Presentazione della Vergine al Tempio’ (‘The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple’ (1551–56), as well as Giorgione’s ‘La Tempesta’ (‘The Tempest’) (1506–08) which is on display at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.
Raqib Shaw comments: “The last painting of the show is absolutely my favourite because it gave me some sort of closure. This is me in my studio looking at the Kashmir landscape of my imagination, and my little doggie going up to heaven. He slipped away and there he is. Before the pandemic I came to Venice with Sir Norman Rosenthal and we went to a few places, and I thought for this show ‘I’m going to reference Venetian paintings’ including Tintoretto’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ and Giorgione’s ‘The Tempest’.”
Eastern and Western iconography and art history are both reflected in the paintings, which provide an unlikely bridge between Renaissance Venice, war-torn Kashmir and contemporary South London.
‘Palazzo della Memoria’ is at the Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, Ca’ Pesaro, Venice, until 25 September 2022
5. Scotland + Venice: Alberta Whittle
Representing Scotland in Venice at a collateral exhibition during the Biennale is Alberta Whittle, who uses film, print, performance, sculpture and installation to explore pressing global topics including xenophobia, colonialism, inequality and climate change. Whittle’s reflective and empathetic work draws on the decolonisation of Western histories and her ongoing research into the African diaspora.
Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, Whittle has lived in Glasgow for most of her adult life and is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh as well as a Research Associate at The University of Johannesburg.
Alberta Whittle says: “With so many urgent conversations on health, grief, refusal, race and healing at the forefront of my mind, now is the moment to ask questions about how we can unlearn and be more actively reflective on a personal level as well as collectively. I’m looking forward to using this opportunity to develop new work in these charged times.”
Alberta Whittle is at Scotland + Venice, Docks Cantieri Cucchini, until 27 November, 2022
6. Sandra Cattaneo Adorno: Águas De Ouro
Brazilian photographer Sandra Cattaneo Adorno has a solo exhibition of photographs at the Palazzo Mora as part of the Personal Structures exhibition and launched her book ‘Scarti di Tempo’ in Venice to accompany the exhibition.
Águas de Ouro (‘Waters of Gold’) is a series of magical images capturing carefree days spent on Ipanema beach, printed in 6 colours including metallic gold and silver inks to capture the essence of sunlight on water, and evoking the spirit of the people featured whilst retaining their anominity through use of silhouette.
Cattaneo Adorno didn’t take up photography until the age of 60, when her daughter gifted her a photographic course as a birthday present, and in the ensuing 9 years she has travelled the world taking photographs that have been exhibited globally and published in several books.
Sandra Cattaneo Adorno comments that the photographs capture: “Memories and dreams at the same time”.
The Sepia-toned quality of the photographs of cariocas (natives of Rio) frolicking on the beach during their downtime, lends the images a timelessness and giving them an almost immortal quality.
Cattaneo Adorno captures the joie de vivre of the cariocas in prints that could be from the 60s or 70s to now.
Cattaneo Adorno will be launching a new book of photographs at Paris Photo in November.
Read More about the Artist Here
7. Paula Rego: Secrets of Faith at Victoria Miro Venice.
Portuguese artist Paula Rego is exhibiting a series of works completed in 2002 at Victoria Miro’s Venice gallery depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, including pieces that remained in her own collection such as ‘Descent from the Cross’, which took pride of place on her bedroom wall until recently. ‘Descent from the Cross’ is deeply personal to Rego as it relates to the death of her husband Victor Willing, in 1988, with a composition that emphasises the weight of the body being taken down from the cross.
Former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio invited Rego to create a series of artworks for the chapel of Palácio de Belém, and she responded with ‘Nossa Senhora’, visualisations of the Virgin Mary’s story. Eight works were installed in the chapel and some of the other works she created for the series are on display at Victoria Miro.
Paula Rego is participating in the Venice Biennale’s central Arsenale exhibition ‘The Milk of Dreams’, curated by Cecilia Alemani. The Rego artworks exhibited in the Arsenale are ‘Metamorphosing after Kafka’ (2002) and ‘Sleeper’ (1994) reflect how deeply the artist was affected by her early life in Portugal under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, whilst addressing oppression and institutional violence towards women. Her work is often autobiographical and also has wide-ranging references ranging from Goya and Honoré Daumier to Portuguese fairy tales and Disney princesses.
‘Paula Rego: Secrets of Faith’ is at Victoria Miro Venice until 21 May, 2022
8 Stan Douglas at Magazzini del Sale No.5, Dorsoduro.
Canadian artist Stan Douglas is representing Canada at the Venice Biennale, and as part of his Venice exhibitions presents a major new two-channel video installation in the Magazzini del Sale No.5 in Dorsoduro, formerly a 16th Century salt warehouse. The work on display at the Magazzini is part of the official Canadian representation, and works in conjunction with the display in the Canada Pavilion in the Giardini.
Douglas is representing Canada in the Giardini’s Canadian Pavilion, where he is exhibiting a suite of 4 large-scale photographs documenting pivotal moments of global social and political unrest which began in 2011, such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement which saw protests against economic inequality, and anti-austerity protests in the UK. The multi-disciplinary artist juxtaposes the civil unrest of 2011 – which was widely documented via social media – with the working class protests of 1848 in Europe, which were subdued and shut down through policing, and went largely unreported.
Stan Douglas 2011 #1848 is at the Canada Pavilion in the Giardini and Magazzini del Sale n5 until 27 November, 2022
Words and Photos by Lee Sharrock @culturallee © Artlyst 2022