Venice Biennale: Nigerian Identity

The inaugural Nigerian Pavilion comes to the Venice Biennale in 2017. From 13 May, the country will present its first national Pavilion, featuring the work of three leading Nigerian artists. Through a diverse range of media, Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku will explore ideas of identity and belonging. A celebration of the region’s rich artistic heritage and cultural talent, How About NOW? examines Nigeria’s multi-faceted identity – a nation informed by complex histories, a colonial past, memory and contemporary ideological potential.

Upon entering the Pavilion, audiences will be greeted by an immersive installation comprised of video-performance, sculpture and painting. The fundamental concerns of nationhood and self-awareness shine through in the practitioners’ works. Interdisciplinary artist, architect and author Peju Alatise draws on the manifold cultural readings of clothing, clay and words in Flying Girls, an installation of eight winged life-size girls inspired by the story of a 10-year old girl who worked as a housemaid in Lagos while dreaming of a realm where she was free.

Victor Ehikhamenor is an award-winning visual artist, writer and photographer, whose practice is influenced by traditional African motifs and religious cosmology. His contribution, The Biography of the Forgotten, is a large-scale installation informed by classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage. Lastly, performance artist Qudus Onikeku uses the art of dance to delve into Nigeria’s past and present in a trilogy of performance film entitled Right Here, Right Now. Here, dance explores the workings of body memory and its connection to national consciousness.

Curated by Adenrele Sonariwo, Director of RELE Gallery, Lagos, and writer Emmanuel Iduma, the Pavilion will be staged in the Scoletta La Scuola dell’Arte dei Tiraoro e Battioro (School of the Arts of Gold Threading and Gold Beating), located along the Grand Canal. Sonariwo explains: “The aim of the Nigerian Pavilion is to reflect on the idea of ‘now’ – asking at what point does Nigeria’s ‘now’ begin? The artists’ seek to question the minefield of societal consciousness around aspects of identity and belonging as it relates to, and confronts our past and future.”

The Nigerian Pavilion, How About NOW?, 13 May-26 November, 57th Venice Arte Biennale, Scoletta dei Tiraoro e Battioro, Campo San Stae, Santa Croce, Venice.

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1. Victor Ehikhamenor. Courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery.