The Italian stranieri, the Portuguese estrangeiro, the French étranger, and the Spanish extranjero, are all etymologically connected to the strano, the estranho, the étrange, the extraño, respectively, which is precisely the stranger. Sigmund Freud’s Das Unheimliche comes to mind—the uncanny in English, which in Portuguese has indeed been translated as “o estranho”–the strange that is also familiar, within, deep down side. According to the American Heritage and the Oxford Dictionaries, the first meaning of the word queer is strange, and thus the Exhibition unfolds and focuses on the production of other related subjects: the queer artist, who has moved within different sexualities and genders, often being persecuted or outlawed; the outsider artist, who is located at the margins of the art world, much like the self-taught artist, the folk artist and the artista popular; as well as the indigenous artist, frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land. The productions of these four subjects are the interest of this Biennale Arte, constituting the International Exhibition’s Nucleo Contemporaneo, and although their work is often informed by their own lives, experiences, reflections, narratives and histories, there are also those who delve into more formal issues with their own strange, foreign or indigenous accent.
Indigenous artists have an emblematic presence in the International Exhibition, and their work greets the public in the Central Pavilion, where the Makhu collective from Brazil will paint a monumental mural on the building’s façade, and in the Corderie in the Arsenale, where the Maataho collective from Aotearoa—New Zealand will present a large-scale installation in the first room, two other iconics locales in the exhibition. Queer artists appear throughout the exhibition, and are also the subject of a large section in the Corderie, which gathers works by artists from Canada, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, and the USA, and one devoted to queer abstraction in the Central Pavilion, with works by artists from China, Italy, and the Philippines. From Europe, three of its most remarkable female outsider artists are presented: Madge Gill, from the United Kingdom, Anna Zemánková, from the Czech Republic, and Aloïse, from Switzerland.
The Nucleo Contemporaneo will feature a special section in the Corderie devoted to the Disobedience Archive, a project by Marco Scotini, which since 2005 has been developing a video archive focusing on the relationships between artistic practices and activism. In the Biennale Arte 2024, the presentation of the Disobedience Archive is designed by Juliana Ziebell, who also worked in the exhibition architecture of the entire International Exhibition. The section is divided into two parts especially conceived for our framework, diaspora activism and gender disobedience, and will include works by 39 artists and collectives made between 1975 and 2023.
The International Exhibition will also feature a Nucleo Storico gathering works from 20th century Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Much has been written about global modernisms and modernisms in the Global South, and a number of rooms will feature works from these territories, much like an essay, a draft, a speculative curatorial exercise that seeks to question the boundaries and definitions of modernism. We are all too familiar with the histories of modernism in Euroamerica, yet the modernisms in the Global South remain largely unknown. Knowledge about these is limited to the specialists in each individual country or region at best, yet connecting and exhibiting these works together will be revealing. It is this sense that these histories assume a truly contemporary relevance—we urgently need to learn more about and from them. Additionally, European modernism travelled far beyond Europe throughout the 20th century, often intertwined with colonialism, and many artists in the Global South traveled to Europe to be exposed to it. In this process, modernism was appropriated and devoured in the Global South. The reference here is to Oswald de Andrade’s notion of antropofagia, offered as a tool to the modern intellectual at the margins of Europe to appropriate metropolitan culture, cannibalizing it and producing something of his or her own, and evoking the cannibalistic practice of the indigenous Tupinambá people in pre-invasion Brazil. The unique, distinct types of modernism around the Global South assume radically new figures and forms as they often dialogue with local and indigenous narratives and references.
Three rooms are planned for the Nucleo Storico, with one work by each artist, mostly paintings but also works on paper and sculpture, spanning the years of 1905 and 1990. It is difficult to establish a strict overarching chronology here, as the processes may be quite singular in each country or region, often following their own idiosyncratic courses. In the Central Pavilion, one room is devoted to portraits and representations of the human figure and a second one devoted to abstractions.
The double-room named Portraits, includes works by 112 artists from Algeria, Aotearoa—New Zealand, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The selection shows how the human figure has been explored in countless different ways by artists in the Global South, reflecting on the crisis of representation around the very figure that marked much of the art in 20th century art. In the Global South, many artists were in touch with European modernism, through travels, studies or books, yet they bring in their own highly personal and powerful reflections and contributions to their works. Most works depict non-white characters, which in Venice, at the heart of the Biennale, becomes an eloquent feature of this large and heterogenous group and the Exhibition itself.
The room devoted to Abstractions includes works by 37 artists from Argentina, Aotearoa—New Zealand, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Turkey. A key reference here is the extraordinary Casablanca School of painters from Morocco, some of which will be presented at the Biennale for the first time. What is of interest here is a certain type of abstraction that detaches itself from the European constructivist abstract geometric tradition, with its rigid orthogonal grid of verticals and horizontals and its palette of primary colors, in order to privilege more organic, curvilinear shapes and forms, bright and vivid colors, in striking compositions.
Most of these artists are being exhibited together for the first time, and we will learn from these unforeseen juxtapositions in the flesh, which will then hopefully point towards new connections, associations, and parallels much beyond the rather straightforward categories that I have proposed. Although not technically part of the Global South any longer, artists from Singapore and Korea have been brought into these sections, given that at the time they were part of the so-called Third World. In a similar manner, Selwyn Wilson and Sandy Adsett, from Aotearoa — New Zealand, have been brought into this Nucleo Storico given that they are historical Maori artists, and the focus on indigenous artists. With the inclusion of the vast majority of these artists in the Nucleo Storico at the Biennale Arte for the first time, a historical debt is paid to them.
A third room in the Nucleo Storico is dedicated to the worldwide Italian artistic diaspora in the 20th century: Italian artists who travelled and moved abroad developing their careers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as in the rest of Europe and the United States, becoming embedded in local cultures—and who often played significant roles in the development of the narratives of modernism beyond Italy. This room will feature works by 40 artists who are first or second generations Italians, exhibited in Lina Bo Bardi’s glass easel display system (Bo Bardi herself an Italian who moved to Brazil, and who won the 2021 Biennale Architettura’s Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Memoriam).