Making History at the Venice Biennale

Daniel J. A. Opolot

The largest art fair in the world has seen countless artist adorn its walls with some of …

The largest art fair in the world has seen countless artist adorn its walls with some of the most extraordinary art imaginable. This celebration of culture and counter-culture, nationality, unity and dis-unity, has served as a home of sorts for art history since its inception in 1895. 2021 and 2022 will be no exception. 

Great Britain and the United States will make showings at the Venice Biennale that will make indelible marks in their national consciousness in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Sonia Boyce RA, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain at the 2021 Venice Biennale. After receiving an OBE in the 2019 honours list, her commissioning by the British Council to the appointment of the Biennale is a commendation that will set in concrete, the incandescent mural that Boyce has painted through time. The British Black Arts Movement that flared through the 80s ploughed a deep furrow in British culture that simply couldn’t be ignored. Boyce, along with contemporaries Rasheed Araeen, Denzil Forrester, Claudette Johnson et al, was one of those strong voices that spoke, clearly and unadulterated, about the marginalisation of Black and Brown identities in the cultural and wider spheres of the western world. 


Across the pond, meanwhile, Simone Leigh comes forward out of the current contentious atmosphere of the United States, to represent her nation on the world stage in 2022. Primarily through her sculptures, her art practice pays a lasting tribute to Black history. Leigh highlights her appointment at the biennale as paradoxical, acknowledging on instagram that it comes “during this time when the depth of white supremacy in America is in full view. I also recognise that this is a time when black artists and intellectuals of the diaspora are flourishing and have reached critical mass. My show, comprised primarily of sculpture, will engage the work of black feminist thinkers who have enlarged and transcended the limits of this democracy.”

These forthcoming years at the Venice Biennale will be another in a long line of firsts for Black British and Black American history. More than that, the first Black women to represent Great Britain and the United States in Venice presents a new narrative to the world, internationally, that rises to challenge, to exacerbate, and to comfort. 




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