Venice Biennale, at Nigeria pavilion a project on the country's imagery

For the current edition of the Venice Biennale, the Nigerian pavilion is exhibiting the Nigeria Imaginary project, an exhibition exploring Nigeria through different media.

For the 60th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, the Nigeria Pavilion presents the Nigeria Imaginary project, commissioned by Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Art, Culture and Creative Economy.

Curated by Aindrea Emelife, curator of modern and contemporary art at MOWAA, Museum of West African Art, the Nigeria Pavilion features site-specific works commissioned from a group of intergenerational artists-Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Ndidi Dike, Onyeka Igwe, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Abraham Oghobase, Precious Okoyomon, Yinka Shonibare, and Fatimah Tuggar-selected to respond to the exhibition’s theme and title. Using different mediums, the artists explore the many souls of Nigeria that live in their minds, whether as moments in history, nostalgic moods, or visions of the Nigeria that is yet to be. Nigeria Imaginary is an investigation of the legacies of the colonial past in today’s post-independence nation and a provocative imagination of a hopeful, youth-led future. The Pavilion will have a distinctive identity and a dynamic website, where online audiences can listen to curated playlists and soundscapes created in collaboration with Nigerian artists and musicians to evoke Nigeria Imaginary. It will also feature interviews with a variety of Nigerians regarding their nostalgia, utopias related to Nigeria, gathered as part of the Nigeria Imaginary Incubator Project, and an exclusive podcast with each of the artists.

Within the walls of the 16th-century Canal Palace, Nigeria Imaginary acts as the contemporary equivalent of the Mbari Club, the center of cultural activity founded in Ibadan in 1961 by Ulli Beier with the involvement of a group of young writers including Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. The art community, often called The Art Society, during the early years of independence, sought a “laboratory for ideas,” a place to explore the paradoxes of myths, experiences of colonial modernity, moral education and utopian imagination. These believed that art was a duty to the nation, a public issue. It is in these ideas that Imaginary Nigeria joins the Mbari Club, taking on this task with a new generation of artists and their interpretations. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will be able to interact with objects of historical or everyday significance that reflect the theme of Imaginary Nigeria. In an homage to the tradition of Venetian ceiling painting, a brightly colored painting by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones opens the view across the ceiling of the Canal Palace, enhanced by historical references in Nigerian art ranging from traditional images of Yoruba sculpture to the fluid modernism of Ben Enwonwu. A two-part work by Ndidi Dike, featuring a sculptural installation and large-format photographs from the artist’s personal archive, reflects on Nigeria’s END SARS uprising and how it is intertwined with global movements against corruption and police brutality, serving as both a memorial and a beacon of hope. An audiovisual series consisting of two works by Onyeka Igwe explores the aftermath of colonialism and the intertwining of Nigeria and Britain, extending her earlier exploration of colonial legacies through the “sonic shadows” of film archives.

A series of drawings by Toyin Ojih Odutola weaves an intricate, semi-mystical narrative that explores the Mbari house as place and metaphor. An installation of digital collages instead by Abraham Onoriode Oghobase complicates objectively presented narratives and authority in written and photographic documents of the Nigerian colonial period, drawing parallels between exploitation of landscape and labor. A sculptural radio tower designed by Precious Okoyomon records changes in the atmosphere and transforms them into the sounds of bells and electronic synthesizers, also broadcasting the words of selected Nigerian poets, artists and writers. An installation-based work by Fatimah Tuggar leverages augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and animatronics within architectural facades inspired by the Tubali Hausa vernacular construction to explore how colonization and globalization have intensified the denial of indigenous craftsmanship and environmental impact. In addition, the work offers explorations and playful encounters to stimulate a change in our perspectives. A major sculptural installation by Yinka Shonibare imagines a future in which the majestic historical artworks looted by British forces from the Kingdom of Benin are presented not as trophies of a lost and unchanging city, but as evidence of ever-evolving artistic refinement and innovation. The Pavilion will also incorporate selected content developed through a special research project curated by Emelife and presented by MOWAA at ART X Lagos and EdoIFest in Benin in 2023, called The Nigeria Imaginary Incubator Project.

In the midst of an installation of objects and images of daily life in Nigeria, visitors were invited to record their answers to questions such as: what does Nigeria taste like? What song reminds you of your grandmother? What childhood memory would you like to relive? How did you get to school? What does Nigeria look like in 2050? Audio answers will be featured in the Pavilion to contextualize memories and dreams. An expanded presentation of the Nigeria Pavilion, also curated by Emelife, will travel to MOWAA as an exhibition opening in the new contemporary art space in the MOWAA Creative Campus.

Notes on the artists

Aindrea Emelife studied Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. As a curator and art historian, she has led a series of high-profile projects with a focus on modern and contemporary art devoted to the investigation of colonial and decolonial histories in Africa, transnationalism, and the politics of representation. Her recent exhibitions include “Black Venus,” an investigation into the legacy of black women in visual culture, which debuted at Fotografiska in New York in 2022, followed by a tour at MOAD (Museum of the African Diaspora) in San Francisco, California, and will open at Somerset House in London, England, in July 2023. His first book, “A Brief History of Protest Art,” was published by Tate Publishing in March 2022. Currently, Emelife is working on his second book, which will be published by Thames & Hudson in 2024. She has contributed essays to publications such as “Revisiting Modern British Art” (Lund Humphries, 2022). In 2021, she was appointed a member of the Commission for Diversity in the Public Sphere by the Mayor of London.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones was born in 1992 in London, UK and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He received his BA from The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, UK, in 2014, and in 2017 he received an MFA in painting and printmaking from the Yale School of Art, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Ndidi Dike was born in London, England and currently lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria. She is a multidisciplinary artist who spent the early years of her life in London before moving to Nigeria. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nigeria in Nsukka in 1984. Dike is known internationally as a self-taught sculptor working in diverse areas of contemporary art forms that dialogue with contemporary politics, the geopolitical history of natural resources, extraction, and the pre- and post-colonial history of slavery, among other themes. Recent exhibitions this year include “A World In Common: Contemporary African Photography” at the Tate Modern in London, “Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes” at the South London Gallery in London, and “African Modernism in America 1947 - 1967” at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in Missouri.

Onyeka Igwe was born in 1986 in London, UK and is an artist and researcher working between film and installation. Her work includes narrative and visual threads, anchored by a rhythmic montage style, as well as a strong focus on the dissonance, reflection and amplification that occur between image and sound. His work has been exhibited in the UK and internationally at film festivals and galleries. Igwe received the New Cinema Award at the 2019 Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, the Arts Foundation 2020 Fellowship Award for Experimental Film, and the Foundwork Artist Award 2022.

Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in 1985 in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and currently lives and works in New York, NY. She is known for her multimedia drawings and works on paper, which explore the malleability of identity and possibilities in visual storytelling. Interested in the topography of skin, Ojih Odutola has a distinctive style in creating marks using only basic drawing materials, such as ballpoint pens, pencils, crayons and charcoal.

Abraham Onoriode Oghobase was born in 1979 in Lagos, Nigeria, and is a visual artist currently living and working in Toronto, Canada. In his photography-based practice, he engages with issues related to knowledge production, territory, colonial history and representation, deconstructing traditional modes of creation and experimenting with the narrative and material potential of images and objects. Oghobase’s work has been exhibited widely, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Polygon Gallery in Vancouver, Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, Pace Gallery in London, KADIST in Paris, and the Arthouse Foundation in Lagos. His works are in the permanent collections of institutions such as MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina, and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from York University, Toronto.

Precious Okoyomon was born in 1993 in London, UK and is a poet and artist. Her work explores the natural world, stories of migration and racialization, and the simple pleasures of everyday life. Okoyomon had solo exhibitions at institutions such as LUMA Westbau in Zurich in 2018, Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt in 2020, Performance Space New York in 2021, and Aspen Art Museum in 2021. She has been included in the 59th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale and the 58th Belgrade Biennale, as well as participating in group exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and LUMA Arles in France. Major performances have been commissioned by the Serpentine Galleries in London in 2019 and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 2019.

Yinka Shonibare was born in 1962 in London, UK, and is an interdisciplinary artist. Although he was born in London, he moved to Lagos, Nigeria, at the age of three. He currently lives and works in London. Shonibare’s art practice explores cultural identity, colonialism and postcolonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. His work comments on the intricate interaction between Africa and Europe, as well as their respective economic policies and political histories. Shonibare was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004 and was elected a Royal Academician in 2013. In 2019, he was awarded the honor of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Born in Kaduna, Nigeria, interdisciplinary artist Fatimah Tuggar engages in dialogue and inner discovery as a central approach to cross-cultural art making. In her work, technology is both medium and subject, serving as a metaphor for power dynamics. Tuggar challenges technologies that influence local and global realities by combining objects, images, sounds and interactive experiences that span diverse geographies and histories. His works have been consistently exhibited in over twenty-five countries. He has received awards, including a Guggenheim Creative Arts and W. A. Mellon. She is currently an associate professor of Artificial Intelligence in the Arts: Art & Global Equity at the University of Florida.

Here is the reference site for more information about Nigeria’s pavilion:

Venice Biennale, at Nigeria pavilion a project on the country's imagery
Venice Biennale, at Nigeria pavilion a project on the country's imagery

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