#politics #statehood #borders #biennials #nationalism
The Venice Biennale is fundamentally shaped by its founders’ belief in statehood. Each nation-state secures its site, much like an embassy, and asserts its self-image through the choice of curators and artists. Four pavilions at the 2013 Biennale demonstrate how the notion of the nation-state is constructed and deconstructed in the face of contemporary global pressures. For Bangladesh, the pavilion is a platform to assert a distinct national identity and to distract from tensions prompted by multinational, neocolonial actors. For Portugal, the pavilion is an emissary transporting national essence across geographical borders. For Greece, the pavilion is a catharsis for anxieties about an unstable economic and political system. For Palestine, the pavilion is a non-site reflecting the nebulous identity of a stateless people. Art serves politics in each exhibition, whether representing patriotism, diplomacy, reckoning, or refusal.
Dhali Al Mamoon. Elimination, 2013. Installation. Bangladesh Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Photo by the author.
Bangladesh’s pavilion hosts a group show, Supernatural, that features eight Bangladeshi artists, two international artists, and a collaborative project by the Charupit Art School. The show is commissioned by Francesco Elisei, an Italian who is also responsible for the current and 2011 Costa Rica pavilions, and curated by another Italian, Fabio Anselmi, who curated the 2011 Syrian pavilion. The Bangladeshi artists Mokhlesur Rahman, Mahbub Zamal, A. K. M. Zahidul Mustafa, Ashok Karmaker, Lala Rukh Selim, Uttam Kumar Karmaker, Dhali Al Mamoon, and Yasmin Jahan Nupur are all members of a collective, the Chhakka Artists’ Group. They are joined by Gavin Rain of South Africa and Gianfranco Meggiato of Italy. The works are a broad mix of modernist painting and sculpture, multimedia works, installations, and folk art. Very little holds them together materially, stylistically, or thematically. Large-panel paintings by Mokhlesur Rahman sit adjacent to gleaming geometric abstractions in bronze by Gianfranco Meggiato. The paintings invoke the folk figures and rural landscapes of an idealized Bengali past, while the sculptures are quintessential mid-century European modernism of the sort that has come to be identified with corporate architecture. A mixed-media sculpture installation by Dhali Al Mamoon has a creepy vibe that doesn’t gel with the adjacent cheerful, naïve paintings from the Charupit School. Mamoon’s work is a mountain of matted black hair atop a circle of pale feet that poke out from beneath, with hands suspended from above. Ambiguous and menacing, it is among the show’s best works as it occupies a space that is neither nationalistic nor nostalgic.
Read More »