Art Fairs

Africa In Venice Forum: Representation at La Biennale

By Hannah O'Leary

E very two years, on the occasion of the Biennale, Venice becomes the capital of contemporary art. Art enthusiasts, curators, artists, and journalists attend and discuss important social topics regarding the Biennale’s participants. As art professionals gather from all over the world to attend the 58th Biennale Internazionale Dell'Arte di Venezia, many countries are made invisible by the lack of national pavilions and projects. Comparatively by geography, population, and the creative capability of the African continent, very little has been exhibited and discussed about many African countries, until now.

Mohau Modisakeng, Passage, 2017. © The artist.

The African Art in Venice Forum was born in 2017 from the necessity to compensate for the lack of representation of many African countries at the Venice Biennale. Only 8 out of 54 African countries were represented in national pavilions in the 57th Biennale. AAVF aims to bring together in Venice the unrepresented voices of the contemporary African art ecosystem, present their creative message, and open a broader cultural dialogue during the Biennale’s opening week.

El Anatsui, Dusasa II, 2007, at the Arsenale. © The artist.

In that first edition, over 75 speakers from 5 different continents contributed with their ideas, knowledge and experience in the 20 free, open and inclusive talks that were held over two days to an audience of more than 1,000 art professionals, art lovers and researchers. The vast community gathered around the initiative demonstrates the need for innovative, open and accessible platforms to expand the dialogue around contemporary African art.

Qudus Onikeku, Right Here, Right Now, 2017. © The artist. Ibeabuchi Benson Ugochukwu

The African Art in Venice Forum returns for its second edition from the 7 to 9 May 2019, during the opening week of the 58th Biennale, and Sotheby’s is proud to return as one of their founding partners. Hannah O’Leary, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary African Art and AAVF contributor, spoke to founder Neri Torcello, about the organisation's plans for 2019:

“This year, we want to bring the African Art in Venice Forum one step further in accordance with its overarching vision of radical inclusivity and accessibility. Being in Venice during the opening of the Biennale remains a privilege not everybody can afford. Our goal for 2019 is to livestream the event, record it and provide open access to its content. This will allow old and new friends to join the community and participate to the dialogue—regardless of their geographic location and ability to travel.

Ibrahim Mahama, Out of Bounds, 2015. © The artist.

“We have started a Kickstarter campaign to allow the creation of a newly developed, dedicated live streaming platform accessible through the AAVF website and our Facebook page, through which we can ensure the experience of the African Art in Venice Forum is open and accessible to a wider virtual audience. The platform will be designed to allow questions and interactions with the speakers and the attendees present in Venice. We will also ensure that content will be available after the event by presenting it on our website and a dedicated YouTube channel.

“Allowing artists, creatives, and professionals from all over the world to virtually joining the African Art in Venice Forum would significantly contribute to its vision: nurturing a truly inclusive and open space of dialogues around contemporary African art during the first week of one of the most important international art exhibitions - the Biennale di Venezia. We believe we can trigger the process that will take to the participation of more African national pavilions at the Venice Biennale.”

The African Art in Venice Forum is presented by African Art Dialogues, a not-for-profit
organization based in Italy, with members from 3 continents contributing pro-bono to the project. Full details can be found at

WATCH: Tim Marlow's Must-See Museum Shows: The Venice Biennale's Best Installations, from America to Ghana

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