The Milk of Dreams: Celebrating Womanhood – Venice Biennial 2022
The title for this year’s Venice Biennial is The Milk of My Dreams. Curator Cecilia …
The title for this year’s Venice Biennial is The Milk of My Dreams. Curator Cecilia Alemani explains the theme for 2022 originated from “a book of fairy tales by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), in which the surrealist artist describes a magical world in which life is constantly reinvented through the prism of imagination and in which it is allowed to change, transform, become other than oneself.”
Centring on metamorphosis and changing relationships between the body and nature, and individuals and technologies, the Biennial showcases a variety of artists whose work deals with the human – as well as posthuman – condition. Alemani also voiced her wish to put an emphasis on female artists in this year’s Biennial exhibition, stating that “[a]s the first Italian woman to hold this position [as curator], I intend to give voice to female artists to create unique projects that reflect their visions and our society.”
The amalgamation between humanity and other forms of being that is to be the focus of the Biennial occurs at a curious junction in human history. As humanity’s survival on this earth is variously threatened in the past few years, with the pandemic that still lingers among us and the war that is plaguing millions, The Milk of Dreams call into question the very definition and constitution to the human, nature, and subsequently, the non-human.
It is easy to see how other prominent social issues and movements can be incorporated into the Biennial’s compelling exploration of humanness. Many exhibiting artists present in their work, for example, the impact of the anthropocene on the earth’s ecosystem, while still others sought to recentre the discussion towards a ‘nature’-based perspective, focusing instead on the impact of one’s surroundings on their bodies. The impact of technological advancements also features prominently amongst the artwork displayed. An appropriately relevant topic, many artists use their chosen mediums to explore the implications to the relentless development of technology and the potential annihilation of humanity by the very machines we have created, producing works that present and interrogate hybrid forms and fantastical beings. Discourses relating to different perceptions of the world and its human and non-human agents are also given a space to be negotiated in the artworks exhibited this year, as Alemani and her colleagues work to make this a truly international event, inviting artists from 58 countries, with a large portion of the 213 participating being from underrepresented groups in the artworld.
The Milk of Dreams seems to suggest that as the threat to humanity’s survival increases exponentially, we would do better to gather strength in numbers than remaining divided along various lines of social, political, and historical conflicts and unrest. As artworks depict the gradual receding of humanity from the world, they simultaneously suggest alternative ways of being which rely less on division, categorisation, and separation. Instances of amalgamation of the human and non-human in this exhibition represent a fundamental affinity and coevalness not only between the two, but also amongst humanity itself. It would not be too far to say that the Biennial encourages a conception of our society today as a system where each individual equally plays a part as a crucial component to its successful operation and maintenance.
As the 59th international Biennale Arte approaches, here’s 10 female artists from underrepresented groups in the art world to look out for this year.
Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti artist born in Senegal. She was educated in Japan and currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Al Qadiri’s practice primarily revolves around sculptures, installations, and videography. Interrogating the history of the oil industry in the Middle East, her works stand as a poignant reminder of not only the environmentally destructive aspects of oil extraction and trade, but they also highlight the relatively short lifespan of oil in the history of the region itself. Her recent sculptural works are identifiable by their iridescent coat, representing the way oil tends to gleam in sunlight, but also the largely unknown pearl diving industry that supported the economy of the Middle East before the discovery of oil. By alluding to the historical, social, and political aspects surrounding the tremendous change the region has experienced, Al Qadiri’s works explores various important themes such as environmentalism, unconventional gender identities, petro-cultures and their possible futures, as well as the legacies of corruption. Behind these various explorations is the jolting reminder and recentring of the anthropocene and its impact on the planet in relation to the vast, temporal trajectory of our ecosystem.
Shuvinai Ashoona is a third-generation Inuit artist living in Kinngait, Nunavut. Depicted in her works are everyday scenes situated in the northern landscape familiar to the artist. The figures in her drawings are sometimes amalgamations of various different forms of being, directly questioning the strictly biological understanding of living forms as conventionally accepted in society. Drawing from her imagination, Ashoona creates images saturated with the artist’s reservoir of personal iconography, depicting a diverse range of subjects from historic stories from Inuit culture, to Christian iconography and popular culture. The hybrid creatures and anthropomorphic forms in Ashoona’s drawings are alluring interrogations of notions of humanity as well as the natural world in which we live in. Overturning traditions found in Inuit art, Ashoona’s works represent a compelling coexistence of old and new elements in a masterfully crafted whole.
Firelei Báez was born in the Dominican Republic. Her artworks address and debate issues and ideas surrounding diasporic histories and identities. Casting these nuanced dialogues into her imaginative realm, Báez aims to reclaim power and celebrate black female subjectivity through powerful depictions of bodies and spaces. Populating historically- and politically-loaded reproductions of maps and documents with hybrid forms, incorporating folkloric and literary references, plantlife, and other organisms to present alternative universes. These fantastical worlds of Báez become new possible realities for the future, empowering minority groups affected by various structural issues in society today.
Merikokeb Berhanu is an Ethiopian artist born in Addis Ababa, currently living and working in Silver Spring, USA. Her paintings approach intriguing and thought-provoking questions regarding mortality and the human condition. Drawing inspiration from nature and her surroundings, the subjects of her work remain primarily motifs found in nature, whether these be patterns occurring in landscapes, plants, or animals. Combining organic phenomena are Berhanu’s explorations of her own inner world. Captured in vibrant colours and fantastical shapes and forms, the artist expresses her feelings and emotions experienced at various significant stages of her life. Scenes depicted in Berhanu’s paintings are situated in the liminal space between the conscious and subconscious. Abstract and provocative saturate the landscapes of nature in Berhanu’s introspective explorations on canvas, signalling a merging of the biological, organic, natural, and geographical into a singular being. Their expression is influenced further by the Ethiopian Modernist legacy, engaging with current discourses in contemporary art through her unique, unifying vision.
Mylande Constant is a Haitian artist born and living in Port-au-Prince. An internationally renowned textile artist, Constant’s work is unique in the innovations she brings to the existing tradition of making drapo Vodou (Vodou flags). Painting with beads, as the artist describes, revolutionised the flag tradition in introducing a technique that allowed for more detailed representations on the fabric compared to the tradition of working with sequins. Possessing the qualities of a painting, Constant views her mural-like creations as spaces from which different narratives and stories, elaborate rituals, and detailed tributes to Lwa (spirits in the religion of Haitian Vodou) can be represented in great detail. As her creations grow in scale and magnitude, Constant expresses her consideration of her flags as a documentary of the knowledge she wishes to convey to her audience. Transforming stereotypical, demonic views of Vodou, Constant emphasises the beauty at the heart of this religion through her meticulously constructed work.
Jadé Fadojutimi is a painter living and working in London. Her works constitute a complex exploration of the artist’s inner landscape. Interrogating notions of identity, self-knowledge, and connections between the self and its surroundings, Fadojutimi’s paintings pose similar questions to the viewer. Although her practice centres primarily around painting, Fadojutimi has expressed her willingness to experiment with materials belonging to other mediums, incorporating pastels, fabrics, even sound and music into her work. Conceptualising her paintings as works of installation, the artist sports an understanding of traditional art forms, such as paintings, that diverges from conventional conceptions. Taking into account spatial aspects in the exhibition of her work, Fadojutimi creates complete spaces that confront the audience with provocative questions at every turn. Seeking to discover and further understand herself, existential questions, and daily experiences of the human, Fadojutimi explores these notions through abstract and figurative shapes and forms in her work, creating morphed representations of the familiar anthropo form.
Sheree Hovsepian is an Iranian-born artist living and working in New York City, USA. Working primarily in photography and collage, Hovsepian approaches these mediums in unconventional ways. Working with film-based cameras and light-sensitive paper, the artist creates provocative and sensual images with a number of different objects and her own body. Hovsepian displays an extensive knowledge of the history and theory of photography throughout her creations. Exploring the duality of art, the work of Hovsepian negotiates the divide between art as a rule in the world of chaos and art as chaos itself. The body is often conveyed in relation to various geometric shapes in her work, signalling her awareness of the politics of the human body, as well as issues surrounding identity and belonging. At times incorporating other materials, such as clay, into her works, Hovsepian’s creations pose intriguing questions to her audience about the nature of the human body and its connection to other aspects of life.
Sandra Mujinga was born in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), since then she has lived in Norway and Kenya. Muhinga’s practice is multidisciplinary in nature, ranging from photography, performance, video, and sculpture. Rejecting the static nature of traditional art viewing, Mujinga actively creates works that immerses her audience by embedding their movement around the exhibit within the milieu of her works. The artist explores the contemporary ghosts of society created by humanity, relating to issues surrounding cybertechnology, colonialism, and environmentalism. The forms and figures of Mujinga’s works are eerie amalgamations of the human and an Other that is not always made clear. Humanity is decentred from these forms and the audience is left with a phantom aftermath of anthropomorphic creatures, standing as haunting reminders of the impacts brought by the anthropocene.
Cosima Von Bonin was born in Mombasa, Kenya, living and working in Cologne. As a conceptual sculpture and installation artist, her works revolve around themes of maritime creatures. Stemming from a love for nature and animals cultivated in her childhood spent on beaches looking out to the Indian Ocean, Von Bonin incorporates nature with the anthropo in her sculptures. Familiar yet fantastic, the maritime creatures of Von Bonin are paired with ready-made as well as custom-made pieces and materials resembling a variety of themes and ideas, including popular culture references, theatre props, children’s soft toys, and restaurant decor. Von Bonin is known for being enigmatic when it comes to the meaning of her work. The ambiguous nature of these installations work to deepen the intrigue of the viewer by laying bare the connections between nature and humanity.
Portia Zvavahera was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she now lives and works. Zvavahera’s practice revolves around inner spirituality. The ethereal paintings she produces are inspired by the dreams of the artist, and her metaphysical connection to the natural world. Zvavahera’s works also find connections in the figurative painting tradition of her home country, combined with a personal love for vibrant colours in art. Dreams and introspection remain crucial to Zvavahera’s creations. Together with a strong devotion to religion, the artist produces anthropomorphic figures and forms that are suggestive and expressive of the dream world and the inner self. Looking to nature, its flora and fauna, for inspiration, Zvavahera’s paintings depict the intimate connection between nature and its human counterparts through organic and wild forms.
Undoubtedly, this year’s line-up has a diverse range of artists, in terms of their medium of choice as well as their backgrounds – an exhibition promising to impress and dazzle in ways beyond visual, aesthetic appreciation.
Let us know if there are any artists you are excited to follow along in the Biennial!