The first national Pavilion of the Republic of Mauritius at the Venice Art Biennial is based on a dialogue between Mauritian and European artists. Mauritius is a fusion of cultures, languages and ethnicities, with its population made of Indian, African, Chinese and European descendants; the co-presence of temples, churches and mosques in every town of this island nation reveals this diversity.
Virtually uninhabited until the end of the 16th century, the island was then ruled by the Dutch, French and British, before gaining independence in 1968. The newly born state has managed to maintain close ties with their former rulers, and also to establish an economic relationship with the USSR. Since 2000 the Ibrahim Index of African Governance has consistently rated Mauritius as the best-governed African nation in terms of safety, economic development and human rights.
However in art and culture, different sets of assessments apply; there is a short distance to questioning the value and relevance of the contemporary cultural output of a region in relation to the global artworld. The Pavilion is not only a slice of the Mauritian artistic and cultural scene, but also a take on Western conventions when it comes to assessing the ‘art now’ and the canons and critical approaches to the issues of the day.
The Pavilion’s curators believe that art has meaning when challenging its own structure and relationships. Consequently the seven participating artists from Europe, based in established art centres such as the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Russia, are each invited to present a work in response to the work by seven artists based in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean. The artists are invited to challenge each other’s aesthetic and ideological canons, initiating discussions about art theory and practice, colonial heritage and postcolonial relations, education and politicisation of culture.
With this indirect approach to the idea of inclusiveness and difference, carried out by the work of fourteen prominent artists in their respective countries, the Pavilion of Mauritius aims to ‘take the temperature’ of the global art world, and possibly provide – besides a lot of questions – some answers.
When asked about their interest in curating the national Pavilion of Mauritius,Cramerotti and Jürgenson said that: “The project was born out of our dialogue, the ‘urge’ to talk about difference in cultural and even aesthetic canons, why these differences are there and how we approach them. It’s quite easy to ‘dismiss’ a certain approach as naive, immature or wanting to play hardball with geopolitical issues, without really understanding what’s going on in that region and why certain tendencies have developed and are there. Being that manifestation either a political and activist approach or a more transcendental and spiritual one – incidentally, both very present in the Mauritian artistic scene.”
- Sultana Haukim. Courtesy of Mauritius Pavilion
- Kavinash Thomoo. Courtesy of Mauritius Pavilion