Inside Okwui Enwezor’s 56th Venice Biennale “All the World’s Futures”

The 56th Venice Biennale (or the Venice Biennial or Biennale di Venezia) art exhibition began on May 9th and runs through November. Entitled “All the World’s Futures” and curated by Okwui Enwezor, this year’s biennale has much promise—both artistically and politically.

Enwezor is a Nigerian scholar and curator known for putting together exhibits that are massive in scope, challenging in subject, and more relevant in complex ways than most art fairs. This endeavor is no exception. Enwezor is focusing on three intersecting filters throughout the biennale, and actively making this the most interdisciplinary biennale by incorporating visual artists, filmmakers, writers, choreographers, and musicians.

Since the late 1980s, international art fairs have been on an exponential rise. Biennials and triennials have flourished and sprouted up internationally, from Senegal to Australia, Albania to Taiwan. The Venice Biennale began in 1895 and has become a standard who’s-who (and who-will-be) of the art world. Many artists make their international careers and names here.

Enwezor is not a stranger to large-scale curation. He established himself in the mid-1990s after starting NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, and later made a splash curating Documenta (a 100-day exhibition that takes place in Kassel, Germany every five years) in 2002. He has a reputation as a strong academic historian and a revolutionary curator in practice.

In 2002, Carol Becker interviewed Enwezor for Art Journal to discuss his then-current exhibit “The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994.” This interview provides a solid grounding and much insight into Enwezor’s curating goals and challenges when dealing with complicated themes within a huge subject of all the world’s art.

As Becker and Enwezor discuss his seminal and groundbreaking exhibit The Short Century, Enwezor addresses the process by which he brought together artwork that represents struggle, violent resistance, and the complexity of decolonization both in and outside of Africa.

In one of Enwezor’s poignant closing moments, he answers Becker’s question about how he sees his role as a curator—and it offers great insight into the current Biennale:

To curate within culture is to see art in a totality that is not simply bounded by art history. It is there that we begin to make room for new forms of knowledge, new possibilities of articulating different types of intelligence that are unruly and cannot be disciplined by the academic world. That often the curator needs to be experimental.

As with his previous exhibits and curatorial projects, Enwezor’s Venice Biennale promises to be exciting, dramatic, and experimental in both the art he shares and the themes he explores.

Image credit: By Andrew Russeth from New York, New York (Okwui Enwezor) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


JSTOR Citations

A Conversation with Okwui Enwezor

By: Carol Becker and Okwui Enwezor

Art Journal Vol. 61, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 8-27

Published by: College Art Association

Ellen C. Caldwell

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-born and -based art historian, writer, and professor. She writes about visual culture, the arts, and popular media for publications including New American Paintings, KCET's Artbound, Riot Material, Desert Jewels, and more. Read more of her writing at eclaire.me.

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