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La Biennale di Venezia

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Biennale Arte 2022

Pavilion of Applied Arts

Special Project

Pavilion of Applied Arts Special Project - Arsenale, Sale d’Armi


Tiger Strike Red

curated by Cecilia Alemani
artist Sophia Al-Maria


This is the sixth collaboration between La Biennale di Venezia and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, who present a Special Project jointly organised by the two institutions at the Applied Arts Pavilion in the Sale d’Armi, Venice Arsenale: Tiger Strike Red by Sophia Al-Maria, an artist selected by the Curator of the Biennale Arte 2022 Cecilia Alemani.

Qatari-American artist, writer, and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria explores the echoes of colonialism and racism as they have bled into the contemporary relationship between humans via the inherent biases of our algorithms and machines. Al-Maria’s work raises questions around the alienation and dysfunction arising from a culture of “alternative facts” and whitewashed history, identifying remnants of colonialism in the fields of quantum computing, virtual space, and artificial intelligence.

Tiger Strike Red (2022) is a new single-channel video created for the Applied Arts Pavilion in response to the Biennale’s theme, The Milk of Dreams. It is the third in an ongoing series of Al-Maria’s video works that include Beast Type Song (2019) and Tender Point Ruin (2021). Taking inspiration from the collection of automata at the V&A, Al-Maria was drawn to the peculiar eroticism of the automaton known as “Tippoo’s Tiger.” Made for Tipu Sultan, an 18th century ruler of Mysore in South India, the mechanical sculpture depicts a tiger mauling a British soldier. In Al-Maria’s eyes, this automaton both demonstrates a yearning for revenge on the colonial oppressor and, in the suggestive entwinement of man and beast, the subconscious fantasy of sexual coupling. Tiger Strike Red proposes that the non-consensual projection of Orientalism’s (white male) gaze is once again at work in our collective vision of the future, suggesting that the imaginary monsters conjured by British colonialism – whether the tiger of Mysore or the image of women wearing niqabs – are deeply entangled in our present-day machines and technologies.

Roberto Cicutto
President of Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia

«Since 2016, La Biennale di Venezia and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have given life to the Pavilion of Applied Arts, alternating each year in entrusting their Curators with the organization of the venue. This year, the Curator of the 59th International Art Exhibition Cecilia Alemani has chosen the work of Sophia Al-Maria, an American artist of Qatari origins. Alemani’s is a visionary choice as Al-Maria’s work is an example of “art applied to history”, whose aim is to show just how deeply rooted stubborn colonial visions are even in disciplines apparently so far removed from art such as quantum computing, virtual space, and artificial intelligence – even in times when these colonial visions seem to have lost their hegemonic status.This choice confirms the importance of the collaboration between La Biennale di Venezia and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and opens the door to explorations freed from thematic conditioning, thus allowing the Curator of La Biennale Arte to provide an original gaze, even on the Exhibition’s chosen theme, enriching it with new contents.»

Tristram Hunt
Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

«The V&A is delighted to be collaborating with Biennale Arte for the third time at the 59th International Art Exhibition. Sophia Al-Maria’s filmic installation, Tiger Strike Red, takes inspiration from “Tipu’s Tiger,” the automaton made in the 1790s for Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India. It shows a prostrate European man being mauled by a tiger, which was Tipu Sultan’s emblem, and it is now one of the V&A’s most famous and intriguing objects. Al-Maria uses it as a metaphor to reflect on themes of colonial violence and racism, and how these prejudices haunt our current technologies and the inherent bias of the algorithms that are reshaping our world. It is so powerful to see our historic collections being used as source material to create new artworks that highlight the continuing legacies of colonialism, in both our museums and the public mind.»

Biennale Arte
Biennale Arte