Pavilion of South Africa
Title of the exhibition: Desire: Ideal Narratives in Contemporary South African Art
Exhibitors: Mary Sibande, Siemon Allen, Lyndi Sales
Commissioner: Lethole Mokoena
Curator: Thembinkosi Goniwe
Venue: Torre di Porta Nuova, Arsenale Nuovissimo
This exhibition features four South African artists whose work explores a range of realities, memories and fantasies. The artists produce imaginary truths or rather ideal narratives that reflect on South Africa, a country that is simultaneously adored and detested. South Africa is a specific cultural geography desired and envied due to both its violent inhuman history and the current democratic transformation thriving to foster human values of equality, respect and dignity.
Such contrasting attitudes toward South Africa also owe to the irreconcilable discrepancies between the country’s wealth and poverty, the beauty of nature and distasteful wellbeing-ness of poor people. These discrepant conditions dictated by politics and economic factors make democratic South Africa very curious, thus a subject of interrogation to artists, curators and scholars. Yet, there are artists who mission not to only reflect on the dark side of South Africa. These artists produce work that illuminates positive thoughts and experiences. Their affirmative work is not simply passive but rather reflective on examining the politics of humanity, quality of life, various human senses and emotions.
These artists have rendered post-apartheid South Africa a site to explore ideals of beauty, pleasure, democracy and freedom. They do so in intimate ways that are irreducible to political rhetoric or ideological stance. Their work is charged, like South Africa it-self, with emotion even if their aesthetic language and representational strategies are conceptual and abstract in form. Desire is an exhibition in which the four artists’ work provides differentiated avenues to re-think the ideals and experiences promised by democracy. The project takes desire to mean yearning and need, the necessity to realize that which individuals do not have but are longing for. In a word, the notion desire is a state of both lack and the elementary motivating factor of human actions and deeds. It speaks to crisis and realization.
The world at large deserves to witness and share these ideals as they are inherent in South Africa’s artistic practice, and the curated exhibition Desire will provide such a window into South Africa as seen through the prism of the 2011 Venice Biennale. The exhibition will be a site to contemplate the openness and limits of democracy in ways in which politics of hope and delight are explored. Such a thematic approach speaks to the gifts South Africa has and should share with the world at large. The Venice Biennale is an appropriate international forum for South African artists and curators to share and engage with what their country has offered them, a gift of making possible democratic ideals. The Venice Biennale, with its long history of art, is one of the platforms that enables global participation and contribution of artists, curators, scholars from diverse national backgrounds. To participate in Venice signifies not only recognition and respect but also global interactions and relationships. Exhibiting in the Venice Biennale means visible existence in the world of cultural productions and artistic innovations. Thus South Africa’s participation in the Venice Biennale is important as it will afford the country the opportunity to make visible its own cultural production and artistic aspirations, affording its artists, curators and scholars to display and reflect on the country’s creative wealth and intellectual innovations. And South Africa has the means to both participate and contribute to the making of global history of art, of which artists, curators and scholars are given the global platform to take stock of their national creation and heritage. South Africa’s participation, through re-establishing a pavilion in the Venice Biennale won’t be new or for the first time, but a refreshing return since the country was ostracized due to its apartheid race laws. What is significant about this refreshing return is the fact that South Africa will be one of the very few African countries to have a national pavilion, thus joining Egypt which has maintained a national pavilion since the inception of the Venice Biennale. In this regard, South Africa’s pavilion will contribute to making visibly present what has come to be the virtual absence of national pavilions from Africa, a continent comprised of more than fifty countries.