Venice prepares for opening of 18th International Architecture Exhibition, casting a light on Africa

 Venice prepares for opening of 18th International Architecture Exhibition, casting a light on Africa

Venice is gearing up for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition (Biennale Architettura 2023).

The six-month-long event will open to the public from 20th May to 26th November, spreading over several venues across the city: the Giardini, which hosts the historic national pavilions, the Arsenale, the city’s former naval shipyards, and Forte Marghera in Mestre, Venice mainland.

Curated by Lesley Lokko, Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic, educator and best-selling novelist and organised by La Biennale di Venezia, the event is titled The Laboratory of the Future. The pre-opening will take place on 18th and 19th May, the awards ceremony and inauguration will be held on Saturday, 20th May.

Focus on environment, Africa

Decolonisation, decarbonisation, actions and global engagement are the focus of Biennale Architettura 2023 that seeks to answer urgent demands for environmental protection and addressing human inequalities. This year’s exhibition is focused on combating climate change by promoting a more sustainable model for the installation and operation of all its events.

While tourists and art lovers have flocked to the lagoon city from all over the world for the pre-opening, the event invites the global community to consider the African continent, deeply intertwined with the rest of the world, as the protagonist of the future.

The exhibition hosts 89 participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African diaspora, with almost equal participation of men and women. The average age of participants is 43. The youngest participant is 24 years old Niger who debuts for the first time, while Panama presents its first independent pavilion. The Holy See returns to the Biennale Architettura, with its own Pavilion on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

UAE pavilion

Commissioned by The Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Supported by UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, the National Pavilion UAE – La Biennale di Venezia (NPUAE) marks its fifth participation at Biennale Architettura and presents the exhibition “Aridly Abundant”, curated by Faysal Tabbarah, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture at the American University of Sharjah and co-founder of Sharjah-based experimental architecture and design studio Architecture + Other Things (A+OT).

The exhibition at the UAE’s permanent Pavilion, located at the Arsenale, aims to advocate a change in the way we look at aridity and arid landscapes and their possibilities if reimagined as spaces of abundance.

For every participation at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia, the award-winning pavilion appoints and works with curators, artists, and contributors to conceive, research, and develop an exhibition and accompanying publication that advance and preserve understanding of the UAE’s cultural landscape.

In 2021, Wetland, curated by Wael Alawar and Kenichi Teramoto, won the prestigious Golden Lion for best national pavilion (the highest award of the competition) presenting research into an innovative sustainable cement alternative inspired from salt minerals found in the UAE’s Sabkha heritage sites.

130 years’ history

For nearly 130 years, La Biennale di Venezia has represented a pinnacle of artistic achievements, with few other exhibitions carrying the same level of prestige and influence. Arab participation started in 1938, when Egypt took part at the Art Biennale. Since then, 15 Arab and Middle Easter countries have participated in the event.

Roberto Cicutto, President of La Biennale di Venezia, commented, “One cannot imagine that an Architecture Biennale only shows the art of building. It addresses social issues, not to mention that like the Venice Biennale of Arts or the Film Festival, everything that is presented on stage cannot ignore contemporary times. Historically, the Venice Biennale has presented dozens and dozens of contemporary worlds; it is its job – all together, the different editions represent a rewriting of the world through the transformation of the arts.”

Lesley Lokko, Curator of Biennale Architettura, commented, “This is a space where ideas are made visible for the audience to react to, to talk to one another to reflect, and sometimes to self-reflect as well. The fact we are in a time of non-discourse, of confrontation, an exhibition is a space of another kind of confrontation and thinking. So, many people question the importance of an exhibition, but an exhibition is a space of imagination. If you want to build a better world, first you have to imagine it.”