Kenya Backs Out from 56 Venice Biennale

Words by Riccardo Barluzzi
April 30, 2015

The Kenyan government had officially denounced its own pavilion at the upcoming 2015 Venice Biennale.

Outrage had been growing within Kenya’s artistic community ever since it was announced that there would be only one Kenyan selected to represent the country at this year’s international exhibition, along with six Chinese artists (none of whom live or work in Kenya) and one Italian artist. A petition titled “Renounce Kenya’s fraudulent Representation at 56 Venice Biennial 2015 & commit to support the realisation of a national pavilion in 2017” was subsequently launched and garnered 397 signatures.

Kenyan artist Michael Soi also responded with satirical paintings showing Kenyan artists outnumbered by Chinese ones. “For those who don’t know, Kenya has a lot of great contemporary artists who can represent Kenya,” Soi told The Guardian. “The likes of Wangechi Mutu, Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, Peterson Kamwathi, Paul Onditi, Richard Kimathi, Jimmy Ogonga, Jim Chuchu … I could go on and on. That Kenyan pavilion is as phony as a three dollar bill.”

At first it seemed as though the government wasn’t going to get involved. Finally, on April 14, Wario gave a press conference at the Kenya Cultural Center in Nairobi during which he called the pavilion’s organizers impostors.
Declaring, later, “The Government of Kenya dissociates itself with this group and strongly condemns their acts of impersonation.”

Yesterday, just eleven days before the start of the event, the Kenyan government announced the retirement of its Pavilion. The exhibition will take place anyway, but without official recognition of the Biennale, so it will be an external event .

However contradictions that accompanied this epilogue give way to more of a gray area, but for the moment the retirement seems irrevocable. Few, simple and lapidary have been the words sent Paolo Baratta to communicate the happened: “We informed officially that the Government of the Republic of Kenya, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Art retreated its National Participation at 56. International Art Exhibition , la Biennale di Venezia”

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