Benin’s debut pavilion at Venice Biennale to spotlight restitution and contemporary art

n an eagerly awaited debut at the Venice Biennale, Benin is set to make a powerful statement about decolonisation and restitution with its first-ever pavilion titled “Everything Precious is Fragile.” 

The pavilion, curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founder of the African Artists’ Foundation, will showcase the works of four contemporary Beninese artists: Romuald Hazoumé, Chloe Quenum, Ishola Akpo, and Moufoli Bello.

Each artist has been tasked with creating site-specific pieces that draw on the nation’s rich history and artistic traditions. The pavilion will explore the Gèlèdé philosophy, a feminist Yoruba tradition that emphasises the wisdom of the mother, as a lens through which to examine today’s ecological, political, and social issues. This unique approach aims to strengthen connections to indigenous heritage while addressing contemporary challenges.

Hazoumé, known for his sculptures made from discarded gasoline canisters, symbolises the theme of restitution by returning discarded materials to the West. Meanwhile, Akpo’s photography reimagines Benin’s historic practices and queens, and Bello’s figurative paintings pay homage to Yoruba traditions.

The Benin pavilion comes at a pivotal moment when restitution and repatriation issues are in the global spotlight, particularly concerning the Benin Bronzes. These royal sculptures, looted by the British in 1897, remain scattered across Western institutions. Benin’s participation in the Venice Biennale hopes to shed light on the ties between contemporary Beninese artists and their precolonial heritage. The exhibition will run from April 20 to November 24, 2024, offering a powerful exploration of art, history, and restitution on an international stage.

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