Venice Biennale platforms LGBT+, outsider and Indigenous artists

By Editorial Staff

Outsider, queer and Indigenous artists are getting an overdue platform at the 60th Venice Biennale contemporary art exhibition that opened last week, curated for the first time by a Latin American, Adriano Pedrosa. The title was Foreigners “Everywhere— Stranieri Ovunque” promising and a little forced cool (at the end Pedrosa is a museum curator with more marketing then artistic skills). From this promise of possibilities, the exhibition becomes a tangled, cumbersome web of practices of 332 artists, that falls short of reflecting anything clearly about what it means to exist or make art as an outsider. The exhibition perhaps becomes a victim of its own ambition—the sheer breadth of works and approaches rendering real depth impossible. As for the queer message were nothing but some great openly gay artists selected, but failed again to tell any story. Again, more marketing than curatorship. The big plus is Adriano Pedros is the first openly gay curator in the history of the Venice Biennale. Which can be also a minus for the biennial history.

U.S. queer artist Jeffrey Gibson stands outside the U.S. pavilion of the 60th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Adriano Pedrosa, the Brazilian curator, has crafted a compelling main exhibition at the Venice Biennale, running alongside 88 national pavilions over seven months. This showcase leans heavily towards figurative painting, marking a departure from recent editions which featured fewer installations. Notably, a significant portion of the artists hails from the Global South, a region historically overlooked by mainstream art circuits, with many of them being deceased. A particularly striking inclusion is the debut appearance of Frida Kahlo at the Biennale, showcasing her iconic 1949 painting “Diego and I” alongside a piece by her husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera.

Pedrosa highlights that while the number of living artists is lower, their impact on the exhibition is substantial. Each living artist presents either a large-scale artwork or a collection of smaller works, marking their debut at the Venice Biennale.

Upon entering the main venues, visitors are greeted by a neon sign created by the conceptual art cooperative Claire Fontaine, bearing the exhibition’s title: “Stranieri Ovunque — Foreigners Everywhere.” Sixty versions of this sign, in various languages, adorn the exhibition spaces. Given the current global climate of conflict and tightening borders, the title serves as a provocative commentary, challenging rigid governmental policies and urging a reflection on shared humanity.

Through the diverse perspectives of underrepresented artists, the exhibition tackles themes of migration, diaspora, indigeneity, and the significance of craft. Pedrosa elucidates that the phrase “Foreigners Everywhere” carries multifaceted meanings, suggesting both the omnipresence of diversity in our surroundings and the inherent foreignness within oneself, on a personal and perhaps psychoanalytic level.

He further emphasizes that the exhibition centers around marginalized identities, including refugees, queer individuals, outsiders, and Indigenous peoples, aiming to shed light on their experiences and perspectives.

Some highlights from the Venice Biennale, which runs through Nov. 26:

An outside view of the Arsenale during the 60th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. The Venice Biennale contemporary art exhibition opens for its six-month run on Nov. 26. The main show titled “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere,” is curated for the first time by a Latin American, Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa. AP Photo/Luca Bruno


Facing the threat of protests, the Israel Pavilion stayed closed after the artist Ruth Patir and curators refused to open until there was a cease-fire in Gaza and the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas -led militants were released.

Ukraine is making its second Biennale art appearance as a country under invasion; soft diplomacy aimed at keeping the world focused on the war. Russia has not appeared at the Biennale since the Ukraine invasion began, but this time its historic 110-year-old building in the Giardini is on loan to Bolivia.

For a short time during this week’s previews, a printed sign hung on the Accademia Bridge labeling Iran a “murderous terrorist regime,” declaring “the Iranian people want freedom & peace.” The venue for the Iranian pavilion was nearby, but there was no sign of activity. The Biennale said it would open Sunday — two days after the departure from Italy of Group of Seven foreign ministers who warned Iran of sanctions for escalating violence against Israel.


The Golden Lion for best national pavilion went to Australia for Archie Moore’s installation “kith and kin,” tracing his own Aboriginal relations over 65,000 years. It’s written in chalk on the pavilion’s dark walls and ceiling and took months to complete. The Mataaho Collective from New Zealand won the Golden Lion for the best participant in Pedrosa’s main show, for their installation inspired by Maori weaving that crisscrosses the gallery space, casting a pattern of shadows and interrogating interconnectedness.



As a queer artist born in South Korea and working in Los Angeles, Kang Seung Lee said he identified with Pedrosa’s “invitation to look at our lives as foreigners, but also visitors to this world.”

His installation, “Untitled (Constellations),” which considers the artists who died in the AIDS epidemic through a collection of objects, is in dialogue with spare paper-on-canvas works by British artist Romany Eveleigh, who died in 2020. “The works speak to each other, an intergenerational conversation, of course,’’ said Lee, 45, whose works have been shown in international exhibitions, including Documenta 15. This is his first Venice Biennale.

Nearby, transsexual Brazilian artist Manauara Clandestina presented her video “Migranta,” which speaks about her family’s story of migration. “It’s so strong, because I can hear my daddy’s voice,’’ she said. Clandestina, who hails from the Amazon city of Manaus, embraced Pedrosa during a press preview marking her Venice debut. She said she continues to work in Brazil despite discrimination and violence against transgender people.


The Giardini hosts 29 national pavilions representing some of the oldest participating nations, like the United States, Germany, France and Britain. More recent additions show either in the nearby Arsenale, or choose a venue farther afield, like Nigeria did this year in Venice’s Dorsoduro district.

The Nigerian Pavilion, in a long-disused building with raw brick walls that exude potential, houses an exhibition that spans mediums — including figurative art, installation, sculpture, sound art, film art and augmented reality — by artists living in the diaspora and in their homeland.

“These different relationships to the country allow for a very unique and different perspectives of Nigeria,’’ said curator Aindrea Emelife. “I think that it’s quite interesting to consider how leaving a space creates a nostalgia for what hasn’t been and allows an artist to imagine an alternative continuation to that. The exhibition is about nostalgia, but it’s also about criticality.”

The eight-artist Biennale exhibition “Nigeria Imaginary” will travel to the Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria, where Emelife is curator, which will give it “a new context and a new sense of relevancy,’’ she said.

Louis Fratino is an artist whose paintings and drawings of the male body and domestic spaces capture the intimacy and tenderness found within everyday queer life. Credits: the artist.


Ghana-born British artist John Akomfrah created eight multimedia film- and sound-based works for the British Pavilion that looks at what it is to be “living as a figure of difference” in the U.K. Images of water are a connecting device, representing memory.

“In the main, I’m trying to tease out something about collective memory, the things that have informed a culture, British culture let’s say, over the last 50 years,’’ Akomfrah told The Associated Press. “As you go further in, you realize we’re going further back. We end up going to the 16th century. So it’s an interrogation of 500 years of British life.”

Considering the question of equity in the art world, Akomfrah indicated the adjacent French Pavilion — where French-Caribbean artist Julien Creuzet created an immersive exhibition — and the Canadian Pavilion on the other side, featuring an exhibition examining the historic importance of seed beads by Kapwani Kiwanga, who is in Paris.

“I mean, this feels like a very significant moment for artists of color,’’ said Akomfrah, who participated in the Ghana Pavilion in 2019. “Because I’m in the British Pavilion. Next to me is the French one, with an artist, Julien, who I love a lot, of African origin. And then next to me is a Canadian pavilion that has a biracial artist, again, with African heritage.

“So that’s certainly not happened before, that three major pavilions have artists of color inhabiting, occupied, making work in them. And that feels like a breakthrough,’’ he said.


The Ukrainian Pavilion engaged ordinary Ukrainians to collaborate with artists on work that documents how they are experiencing, and in some ways adapting to the Russian invasion.

The artistic projects include silent video portraits of European actors styled by Ukrainians displaced by the war to represent an “ideal” refugee. In another, neurodiverse young adults show their linguistic flexibility in incorporating a new reality where niceties like “quiet night” have a whole new meaning. And a film installation has become a sort of archive, taken from social media channels that once chronicled pre-invasion pastimes but that turned their attention to documenting the war.

Co-curator Max Gorbatskyi said it was important for Ukraine to be present at the Biennale to assert its distinctiveness from Russian culture, but also to use the venue to keep the wider world’s attention.

“We wanted to look at stories of real people,’’ he said. “There was no way we were going to show some abstract paintings, maybe beautiful and interesting, but which only pose questions in the art discourse. Instead, we wanted to bring real people together with artists in a non-hierarchical way to tell their stories.”

A very banal artistic gesture considered empty in a different set-up outside the war becomes a good place to meditate on the shallowness of the art world today. The values differ in mainstream opinion.

Aravani Art Project is a collective composed of cis and transgender women with the aim of spreading positivity and hope to their communities through their commissioned mural paintings. Credits: the artists.


Greek American George Petrides’ installation “Hellenic Heads” outside of Venice’s Church of Saint George of the Greeks and the Museum of Icons is among the many collateral events that spill over into the city.

Petrides’ created six oversized busts, each inspired by a significant period of Greek history, using family members as models. His mother, in turquoise blue, is in the classical style and his daughter represents the future in a golden hue. To withstand the weather, Petrides recreated an earlier series but this time from recycled plastic, using a digital sculpting software and a 3D printer, reworking details from hand.

“This space is unique. We have the Museum of Icons here, which is one of the most spectacular collections of icons in the world. We have a church started while Michelangelo was still alive, which any sculptor finds interesting. But further, this particular quarter is the Greek quarter,’’ he said, noting an influx after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

Across the city, at the base of the Accademia Bridge, the Qatar Museum’s installation “Your Ghosts Are Mine” presents clips of feature films and video art from the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia organized thematically and exploring issues such as migration, conflict and exile. Films will be screened in their entirety four days a week.

“These different thematics tell a story about all the congruences and the parallels that exist among filmmakers that may have never met or are from different parts of the global south,’’ said assistant curator and filmmaker Majid Al-Remaihi. “Some films were the first from their countries to premiere in Cannes or make it to the Oscars, so these are milestones and also part of our journey.”

Image cover: Dean Sameshima, Young Men at Play, 2004.

An article written by the Editorial Staff over the original reports of Associated Press. The artistic considerations are exclusively our opinions.

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