Benin makes powerful debut at Venice Biennale, highlighting feminism

Benin, for the first time ever, has a pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale, the world’s leading contemporary art exhibition, per

The brainchild of Lagos-born curator Azu Nwagbogu, the outlet reports that the exhibition pulsates with the heart of African feminism.


Nwagbogu, entrusted by Benin’s president himself, envisioned a space that transcends the typical frenetic Biennale experience. Here, visitors are invited to slow down, reconnect with humanity’s essence and delve into the roots of African feminism.

The impetus for Benin’s inclusion, according to Nwagbogu, stemmed from a pivotal moment in 2021: the historic return of 26 stolen artefacts from France. He witnessed firsthand the profound impact of their homecoming exhibition, where contemporary art seamlessly intertwined with ancestral works, highlighting an enduring creative spirit.

Works by Moufouli Bello at the Benin Pavilion. Part of the Venice Biennale Arte 2024, Italy on 16 April, 2024. © @Jacopo La Forgia

The curatorial team explored themes central to Benin’s identity: spirituality, the Vodun religion, the Amazon warriors, and the scars of the slave trade. Extensive consultations with cultural custodians, including Vodun representatives and the King of Dahomey, reinforced a core belief: nature, and by extension life itself, is inherently feminine. Our current state of imbalance, Nwagbogu argues, stems from neglecting this nurturing essence.

The resulting exhibition, titled “Everything Precious is Fragile,” echoes the philosophy behind Gelede, a Benin cultural tradition honouring the primordial mother and the vital role of women.

“We wanted to showcase a real, tangible African feminism,” Nwagbogu explains, emphasising the importance of reclaiming the past to shape the future. He, along with co-curator Yassine Lassissi and scenographer Franck Houndégla, handpicked four prominent artists: Chloé Quenum, Moufouli Bello, Ishola Akpo and Romuald Hazoumè. Their diverse styles come together cohesively, each piece complementing the overarching themes.

Eschewing Western-defined feminism, the exhibition celebrates the strength of Benin’s women throughout history, juxtaposed with the inherent fragility of life. Nwagbogu emphasizes that vulnerability is not a weakness, but a state to be acknowledged and embraced.

“This approach allows us to tackle critical issues,” he says, citing environmental degradation, economic disparity, and memory preservation. These, like our precious cultural heritage, are fragile and at risk of disappearing.

The centerpiece of the pavilion is a central dome, creating a sanctuary-like atmosphere. This deliberate contrast to the Biennale’s usual hurried pace aims to reinstate the importance of care and reflection.

“We want people to come in, slow down, and realise there’s knowledge here,” Nwagbogu says. “It should feel welcoming, a vision for the museum of the future.”

Benin’s debut at the Venice Biennale is more than just an art exhibition; it’s a powerful statement about African feminism, cultural identity and the responsibility to nurture what is precious and fragile.

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