Artists to Make Sense of the State of Things

At All The World's Futures Exhibition

Okwui Enwezor and Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice BiennaleCurator Okwui Enwezor's plan for the International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (May 9 – November 22, 2015) vigorously engages art with geopolitics and economics. Not long before Enwezor’s October 22, 2014 announcement of his exhibition theme, the world had witnessed constant upheavals: the Ebola outbreak and ensuing paranoia, the rise of Isis, the commercial airline shot down over Ukraine, mass protests of policing in Ferguson, Cleveland and Long Island; thousands of war casualties in Gaza; Boko Haram's kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria; environmental disasters and more, and the terrorist attacks in Australia, France and Denmark were soon to come. Such events are happening so frequently that epic tragedy and public upheaval are becoming the normal news of the day. 

Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, monoprint. Collection Museum of IsraelIn announcing the exhibition theme as “All the World’s Futures,” Enwezor cited philosopher Walter Benjamin’s 1921 imaginative interpretation of Paul Klee’s 1920 monoprint, Angelus Novus. Europeans were still shattered from the horrors and devastation of World War 1, when Benjamin wrote:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

Just as Benjamin read a lot into Klee's drawing of a lone figure, including things that weren’t literally there, Enwezor is staging an exposition where artists can imaginatively contemplate the contemporary worldwide upheaval.

To guide their making sense of "the state of things," he provides three exhibition “filters” or themes: Livliness (ongoing time-based as well as space-based creation that enables a constant unfolding of expression); Garden of Disorder (creative commentary on paradise gravely disrupted if not lost); and Capitol (a response to “the predations of the political economy [and] the rapacity of the financial industry”). The "Capitol" sessions will include live readings of Marx's four volume manifesto, Das Kapital, from cover to cover.

Enwezor did not formally study art; his college major was political science, so he reflexively connects his interests in geopolitics and economics to art. The 2015 Biennale artist list includes artists from political tinder boxes such Palestine, Iran, Ukraine and Iraq. If Enwezor’s “All the World’s Futures” vision succeeds, the artists’ acts of making sense of “the state of things” will spread from Venice to their home regions and beyond.

African and African Diaspora Artists Participating in, or Represented in, the 2015 Venice Biennale 

Kara Walker’s involvement at another event in Venice during the festival takes her further into dramaturgy. She's designing the sets and costumes of a production of Belleni’s tragic opera “Norma.”

Artists at the International Art Exhibition include:

ADKINS, Terry, b. 1953 - d. 2014, United States; AKOMFRAH, John, b. 1957 Ghana, lives and works in London; AKPOKIERE, Karo b. 1981 Nigeria, lives and works in Lagos and Berlin; BALOJI, Sammy, b. 1978 Democratic Republic of Congo, lives and works in Lubumbashi and Brussels; BOYCE, Sonia, b. 1962 United Kingdom, lives and works in London; EDWARDS, Melvin, b. 1937 United States, lives and works in New York; FUSCO, Coco, b. 1960 United States, lives and works in New York; GAINES, Charles, b. 1944 United States, lives and works in Los Angeles; GALLAGHER, Ellen, b. 1965 United States, lives and works in Rotterdam; GATES, Theaster b. 1973 United States, lives and works in Chicago; INVISIBLE BORDERS: Trans-African Photographers, an artists’ organization founded in 2011, based in Lagos; JULIEN, Isaac, b. 1960 United Kingdom, lives and works in London; LIGON, Glenn b. 1960 United States, lives and works in New York MABUNDA, Gonçalo, b. 1975 Mozambique, lives and works in Maputo; MARSHALL, Kerry James b. 1955 United States, lives and works in Chicago; McQUEEN, Steve b. 1969 United Kingdom, lives and works in Amsterdam; MUNROE, Lavar, b. 1982 Bahamas, lives and works between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Washington DC. MORAN, Jason; b. 1975 United States, lives and works in New York; MUTU, Wangechi; b. 1972 Kenya, lives and works in New York; NDIAYE, Cheikh, b. 1970 Senegal, lives and works in New York, Dakar and Lyon; OFILI, Chris b. 1968 United Kingdom, lives and works in London and Trinidad; OGBOH, Emeka, b. 1977 Nigeria, lives and works in Lagos and Berlin; PIPER, Adrian, b. 1948 United States, lives and works in Berlin; SENGHOR, Fatou Kandé, b 1971 Senegal, lives and works in Dakar; SIMMONS, Gary, b. 1964 United States, lives and works in New York; TOGUO, Barthélémy, b. 1967 Cameroon, lives and works in Paris and Bandjoun.

Here’s more on Enwezor’s plans for the exhibition.