Middle Eastern artists did not win any of the major prizes at the Venice Biennale, which opened to the public on June 1 and will run through Nov. 24, but they have made a good showing nevertheless.
The Iraqi pavilion was pioneering in its debut, an Emirati artist made the rounds on social media and as Al-Monitor’s Cengiz Candar reported, “All the Turks at [the] Venice Biennale gathered at San Marco plaza to support Istanbul,” as protests erupted around their country. In a region rife with turmoil, many of the artists represented had something in common — cutting-edge multimedia work.
On the eve of the public opening, Turkish artists, curators and collectors came together to share information about the clashes at home. They tried to express solidarity with a short march, and the air in the room was far less celebratory than it otherwise would have been, according to The Art Newspaper. Fusun Eczacibasi, Orhan Pamuk and Emre Baykal were among the Turkish personalities at the art fair sharing Facebook pictures and posts. Ali Kazma, a video artist, represented Turkey at its pavilion this year with the piece above aptly titled Resistance.
Egyptians Mohammed Banawy and Khaled Zaki presented in Venice in 2013. Unlike at other pavilions, Egypt presented without a professional curator. Most countries are represented by one or more artists along with an curator, but Egypt, which is still experiencing political turmoil two and a half years after its revolution, had its minister of culture fill in this year. Pictured above is Banawy’s Mosaic. “I see the world through a mosaic panel where its features keep on changing since the Universe has been created and until Resurrection,” wrote Banawy on his website.
The Lebanon pavilion was commissioned by the Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon. Akram Zaatari was one of the biggest artists to contribute to the Lebanese tent, offering a multimedia installation that explores history and Lebanon’s national archives.
Aissa Deebi (right) and Bashir Makhoul (not pictured) represented Palestine with their multimedia exhibit Otherwise Occupied. Like many Palestinian artists, Deebi and Makhoul struggle with the inherent politicization of their work. While the title of their exhibit is overtly political, they try to make the point that “it is vital that the idea of Palestine is not defined by the occupation.”
Mohammed Kazam represented the United Arab Emirates. He has been exploring the same theme for about a decade now, in which he uses GPS “to suggest 'documentation' of his location.” This piece is from 2006 and is part of the series called Directions.