Press Conference and Government Statement- Venice Biennale 2015

POSTED ON: April 15, 2015 IN Speeches & Statements

On behalf of Kenyan artists & the Kenyan arts community we gather here to protest the presence, mediocrity and lack of representation at the 56th Venice Biennial.

The 56th Venice Biennale under the theme of ‘Reflective Nature: A New Primary Enchanting Sensitivity’ opens on 9th May and for the second time, the Kenyan Pavilion has been awarded to individuals that have no relations in any way to the Kenyan Art community. The Pavilion, as you know, was “commissioned” by a Paola Poponi and “curated” by one Sandro Orlandi. This was also the case during the 55th Biennial in 2013. These individuals have gone ahead and selected non-kenyans; Qin Feng, Shi Jinsong, Li Zhanyang, Lan Zheng Hui, Li Gang and Double Fly Art Center and presented them as Kenyans in this prestigious event. They have also included two Kenyans Yvonne Apiyo Braendle-Amolo & Armando Tanzini.

It is regrettable that by awarding Paolo Poponi the Kenyan pavilion, talented & deserving Kenyan artists have been systematically excluded from this event.

It is our collective opinion that in as much as the Venice Biennial remains a profound and important fixture in global Contemporary Art programming, Kenya does not need a pavilion just for the sake of it. In fact, it would be better not to be in the biennial at all, than to be represented in some unintelligent and scandalous manner.

In addition to the recklessness that the Kenyan pavilion under Poponi and Orlandi is constituted, it clearly lacks of any meaningful curatorial perceptiveness.

It also limits access, is an affront to Kenyan artistic excellence and goes further to enrich unscrupulous, non-equitable complexes, which have no place whatsoever in culture or in our societies as we envision them.

Most importantly, the current pavilion fails to play any part in a consistent, robust long-term strategy to develop Kenyan artists and its emergent scene.

Consequently, we have engaged with our Government through the Ministry Sports, Culture and the Arts with the express aim of ensuring that a more consultative and merit-driven process is began while considering a proper National pavilion for the 57th Biennial in 2017.

As Kenyan art practitioners and with the support of the Kenyan Government, we categorically renounce and disassociate ourselves with the purported Kenyan Representatives at the 56th Venice Biennale. We hereby declare that the artists are in no way Kenyan. Neither through birth nor naturalization and have no business using OUR NAME or flying OUR FLAG at the art Olympics. We demand that the government act by not only stopping the use of the Kenyan name and flying of the Kenyan flag at the Venice Biennale but also demanding the false information be pulled down from all publicity material including the Venice Biennale website.

As Kenyan stakeholders, we are willing to engage the government so as to start the process of applying, fundraising and putting up a pavilion that is representative of Kenya at the 57th Biennale in 2017 and any other future representation both at local, regional and international level.