With the addition of Benin, the number of African nations participating has now increased to twelve from seven in 2017; Ghana and Madagascar debuted in 2019 and Cameroon and Namibia had their debuts at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022.
On 13 March, the Republic of Benin announced that it will be debuting with a national pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale in Italy, which will hold from 20 April–24 November 2024. The announcement makes Benin the latest addition to the global art event which has been running since 1895.
In a statement, the president of the Republic of Benin, Patrice Talon, revealed that the pavilion will be curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founder and director of the Lagos-based African Artists’ Foundation. Nwabogu will be assisted by Yassine Lassissi, artistic director of La Galerie Nationale du Bénin, and architect Franck Houndégla. Playwright José Pliya, the general director of La Galerie Nationale, will commission the pavilion.
According to Talon:
We are delighted to have Azu Nwagbogu as the curator of the Benin National Pavilion. His unique background, vision and expertise in the field of art curation makes him the perfect candidate to showcase Benin’s cultural heritage and contemporary art to the world.
The number of African nations participating has now increased to twelve from seven in 2017; Ghana and Madagascar debuted in 2019 and Cameroon and Namibia had their debuts at the 59th Venice Biennale last year, with the first NFT art show and ‘The Lone Stone Men of the Desert’ respectively.
The exhibition is in line with Talon’s efforts to have the relics looted from the Kingdom of Benin returned. Last year, Talon’s office organized ‘Art of Benin, yesterday and today, from restitution to revelation,’ an exhibition of recently-returned historical artefacts with work from contemporary Beninese artists which was described as ‘the very first episode of a soap opera that promises other sequences’. The exhibition first opened at the presidential palace in Cotonou but has been moved to the Mohamed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, Morocco, where it is on view through May this year.
In 2021, Benin signed an agreement with France, enabling the return of 26 artefacts stolen by the French army 130 years ago. These artefacts had been taken in 1892 from Benin’s Palaces of Abomey and represent a small portion of the 5,000 artefacts that Benin demands to be returned. There are at least 90,000 African art pieces in France, with the Quai Branly Museum in Paris reportedly being home to 70,000 of them.
At the Biennale, national pavilions are organized by countries, offering a show of one or more artists. In 1907, Belgium was the first country to inaugurate its national pavilion, Germany and Britain followed and then Hungary in 1909. In 1930, the United States opened the ninth national pavilion.
Though Benin’s project is yet to be announced, Nwagbogu’s vision is ‘to go beyond hosting a strong showing at Venice but also to help build the intellectual architecture that will allow Benin sustain the great talent that sprouts from this ancient land and people.’⎈
Here are some Republic articles to read for more context on artefacts and restitution:
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