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Tony Usidamen: For Nigeria in Venice…It’s Now or Never



Venice Art Biennale (so called, as it is held biennially) is the most important international art festival in the world. Often described as ‘The Olympics of the Art World’, it is the original biennale on which others elsewhere are modeled.

Not many destinations in the world compare to Venice – the Biennale host city – when it comes to architectural magnificence, scenic beauty and romantic adventure. It is no wonder that the aquatic city draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors, including the greatest artists and art connoisseurs from around the globe, every other year.

Located in the Veneto Region, northeast of Italy, this remarkable province is made up numerous small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. Gondolas (small boats) are the most popular means of navigating the city famed for its monuments, piazzas, narrow lanes and silent waters.

The fascinating inland is composed of many paths traversing the green scenery, with small towns rich in history and fabulous villas. The stylish restaurants, exquisite cuisine, choice wines, sandy beaches and colourful nightlife all add to the allure that keeps lovers, vacationers and tourists thronging the city.

Since 1895 when the first Art Beinnale was held, the promoters – La Biennale di Venezia – have stood at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organising exhibitions and research in allied sectors including Music (1930), Cinema (1932), Theatre (1934), Architecture (1980) and Dance (1999).

Venice Art Biennale is a defining platform where nations of the world showcase their art stars and seek to exert some level of socio-cultural and political influence. The increase in the number of participating countries from 59 (in 1999) to 89 (in 2015) when the last edition was held underbellies the importance of the international art fiesta.

About 30 countries – including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany – have permanent pavilions in Venice, and some African nations like Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Mauritius and Seychelles have been represented at one time or the other. Nigerian, Okwui Enwezor, curated the 2015 Art Biennale (the first ever African to be given the honours), although Nigeria has never made it to the global showcase…but that is about to change!

As the stage is being set for the 57th edition of the International Art Exhibition, Ade Adekola, a member of the Steering Committee for Nigeria in Venice 2017, reveals that efforts are in top gear for Africa’s most populous country to make its debut at the global art fiesta. Two renowned visual artists – Victor Ehikhamenor and Peju Alatise – and celebrated performance artist, Qudus Onikeku, have been selected to showcase their unique works centered on the theme ‘How About NOW?’

The declared aim of the Nigerian Pavilion is to reflect on the question of NOW, and of narratives firmly rooted in the present. The presentation by the artists expands an understanding of Nigerian contemporary life through installations, painting, and performance. Their work seeks to use the narrative of the present to interrogate the minefield of societal consciousness in addressing aspects of identity and belonging as it relates to and confronts our past.

According to Adekola: “How About NOW? places a poignant emphasis on the passage of time: time long gone, time that shapes the contemporary zeitgeist, and time that the hopes and faith of a people are hinged on. The question of NOW and Nowness asks us to reflect not only on our myths, history and heritage but more so, on how we chose to champion contemporary narratives in a fragmented, interconnected, and distributed present.”

“The concept of time, and our drive to hold it to NOW, in this brave new present, cannot be viewed without the notion of the rate at which change occurs. The very notion which adds dimension to NOW is captured in a wonderful word which signals unfolding – Prescience. The Nigerian pavilion stands as a mark of ‘Prescience’, calling all to attention, and to witness the Nowness of Nigerian experience, in all its poignant unfolding forms, as best encountered through artists at work in the country today.”

Venice Biennale 2017 is scheduled to take place in the Giardini, the Arsenale and various other venues in Venice from 13th May to 26th November. Like previous attempts, the recent push for a Nigerian pavilion at the world’s most prestigious Art Biennale is largely private sector-driven. Given the importance of the platform in reestablishing our national pride and developing a more positive narrative for the country, one can only hope that well-meaning Nigerians, corporate sponsors and the government will give the promoters of this laudable initiative all the support needed to actualise this, hitherto, elusive dream. There is no better time than NOW!

Photo Credit: Instagram/NigerianinVenice

Tony is a communications expert, social advocate and lover of music, art and sports. He is Founder of Uburu – an indigenous public relations and marketing communications consultancy helping to build strong brands and institutions across Africa. Reach out via email: [email protected] website:

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