21 April 2024
Day #5 - Venice Vernissage

To wrap up HUM’s coverage of the 60th Venice Biennale, here are some of our team’s takeaways of the curated section, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.

The exhibition’s title is a reference to a series of works by the Paris-born, Palermo-based collective Claire Fontaine, which consists of a number of neon sculptures that have displayed the phrase “Foreigners Everywhere” in different languages throughout the world since 2004, including a version shown at CoCA in Ōtautahi Christchurch in 2015. The phrase “Foreigners Everywhere” is itself a reference to the Turin artist collective Stranieri Ovunque, whose works in the early 2000s critiqued racism and xenophobia.

Curator Adriano Pedrosa’s use of the phrase continues the collective’s recuperation of its xenophobic undertones; in centring the theme of the “foreigner”, Pedrosa, the first openly queer curator of the Venice Biennale, seeks to foreground historically peripheral or marginalised identities, including Indigenous, queer, diasporic, nomadic and migratory subjectivities.

This vast exhibition is ambitious as many of the participating artists aren’t often foregrounded in international art circuits, and the frequently featured note on many labels identifying the artwork as the first of an artist’s to be presented at the Venice Biennale is a testament to this. For all its attention to underrepresented art practices, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere can also be said to suffer from its dependence on canonical art history as a structuring device, particularly in the Nucleo Storico section of the exhibition, which aims to subvert Western hegemonic narratives by displaying a range of contributions to global modernisms.

Whether Indigenous and other artists from the “Global South” are represented as participants in or dissenters of such traditions, this reliance at times appears to retrench the very opposition between Western and non-Western art practices it seeks to disturb – while doing the same for the identity categories it purports to break open, often singling out Indigenous art practices. In this regard, individual artworks often speak louder than the broader curatorial conceit. Mataaho Collective’s woven work, which won the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition out of 332 participants, is one of the works that doesn’t fulfill what at times feels like the exhibition’s promise of easily identifiable forms of “Indigenous art”. Other examples of eschewing easy categorisation and essentialising labels include Daniel Otero Torres’ Aguacero and Anna Maria Maiolino’s Ao infinito (To infinity), both strong and contemporary large-scale installations in the Arsenale.

While it’s inspiring to see the historic works featured in the exhibition, such as paintings depicting Haitian culture and self-determination in the 1950s by brothers Sénèque Obin and Philomé Obin, the binary between “foreignness” and “familiarity” seems to remain for the most part intact, and viewers are provided with an easily navigable roadmap for what is billed as a productively disorienting experience. The Nucleo Storico section in the Giardini feels particularly didactic in this regard, as it relies on a dense, museum-like hang of modernist paintings as well as two rooms split into historical categories: geometric “Abstractions” and figurative “Portraits”. While Pedrosa is perhaps seeking to educate Northern audiences about modernisms from the South, and in doing so enlarge the category of modernism to include the very practices it appropriated in the first place, this can feel more like a concession than a dialogue.

There are, however, plenty of moments of innovation, interest and disruption. The remainder of the curated section is located in the Arsenale, a venue which forces each edition’s curators to devise creative methods of hanging work due to the historic architecture of the site. The Nucleo Storico section in the Arsenale is one of the highlights, as it offers a journey through works of Italian artists who emigrated abroad through the use of cavaletes de vidro by Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, who moved to Brazil in 1946. This ingenious method of display involves suspending an artwork in a thick glass plate atop a concrete cube, avoiding the wall hang associated with traditional forms of display. It would have been great to see more care and intention go into the presentation of the other part of Nucleo Storico at the Giardini.

Powerful textile works are prominent in the other section of Foreigners Everywhere, the Nucleo Contemporaneo, much like the previous edition of the Biennale, recuperating what has historically been diminutively cast as craft and folk art, and which are so interlinked with storytelling in the many countries of the “Global South” and among Indigenous communities, who are strongly represented in Pedrosa’s artist selection.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights is the inclusion of strong video works, which successfully break binaries and stereotypes by exploring micro-narratives. Ahmed Umar, a Sudanese-Norwegian visual artist and LGBT activist, performs a traditional Sudanese bridal dance in full attire in the work Talitin (The Third), which refers to an insult aimed at boys interested in so-called womanly activities. British-born Nigerian artist based in Hamburg Karimah Ashadu documents the life and stories of okada, illegal motorcycle taxis in Lagos. While the subjects of Ashadu’s work offer a performance of masculinity, they also explain the precarious nature and risks involved in having to undertake such work, often without choice. Alessandra Ferrini, an Italian artist based in London, offers a striking depiction of Muammar Gaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi’s controversial alliance with chilling irony and pop colours in a new film, Gaddafi in Rome: Anatomy of a Friendship.

At the very end of the Arsenale, in the small garden on the edge of the water, other films are presented with a documentary feel that doesn’t compromise a strong artistic vision and expression, such as Nazira Karimi’s audio-visual installation, Hafta, and Kudzanai Chiurai’s film We Live in Silence. In the Giardini, another standout is the film Personal Accounts by Gabrielle Goliath, which is constituted by the language-less moments between words in testimonies given by individuals who have been subject to patriarchal violence, as people of colour and non-binary and trans people. 

Overall, Foreigners Everywhere attempts to reconfigure canonical artistic categories while at times perhaps falling prey to their divisions, but strength is certainly to be found in the moments of surprise and inbetweenness – the smaller stories that enact the paradox of expressing the universal. We’ll continue reminiscing and sharing reflections and images in the coming week, as these are incredibly large exhibitions, but for the moment we want to congratulate all the participants for the immense work accomplished, despite many challenges, and as we head home, we are grateful for the time spent in Venice as a team and with our Aotearoa and international colleagues.


20 April 2024
Day #4 - Venice Vernissage

This morning began with the awards ceremony of the Biennale and the thrilling moment when Mataaho Collective were announced as the recipients of the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition. This prestigious award is given to the best contribution to the curated section of the Biennale, and Mataaho Collective were selected out of 332 participants for their work Takapau. This powerful work could not be more deserving of recognition, and we extend our biggest congratulations to Mataaho Collective. The Golden Lion for National Participation was awarded to Archie Moore for kith and kin at the Australia Pavilion, making today a significant moment of recognition for Indigenous artists in Oceania.

After an exciting morning, we returned to Ocean Space and spoke with curator Taloi Havini (Nakas Tribe, Hakö people) and artist Latai Taumoepeau (b.1972 Gadigal Ngura (Sydney), Australia) about Restor(y)ing Oceania, in which Aotearoa architect, artist and writer Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta (Ngātiwai, Waikato Tainui, Sāmoan, Tokelauan) is also featured. For Restor(y)ing Oceania, Taloi was interested in sharing Indigenous worldviews and Oceanic principles related to time and space. Latai’s work Deep Communion sung in minor (ArchipelaGO, THIS IS NOT A DRILL) is a response to deep sea mining and environmental and cultural extraction in the Pacific. The work responds to the site of the Chiesa di San Lorenzo, seeking to restore the sacredness of our connections to the ocean by turning the space into a participatory choral performance through viewers’ activations of a series of paddle machines.

Speaking to the resonances between Deep Communion sung in minor (ArchipelaGO, THIS IS NOT A DRILL) and Elisapeta’s neighbouring work The Body of Wainuiātea, Latai says:

“The cultural reference that is shared by Elisapeta [Heta] and I is the idea of the marae or the malaʻe in my language. Malaʻe, like the marae, is that sacred ground. It also can mean sports ground, it can mean ceremonial ground, it can mean burial ground. So in associating what this church has previously been used for, means I’m not erasing what they did with it, but adding to it and looking at the spiritual connection a lot of people can have with their body of water, their ocean – where there’s only one ocean but multiple bodies of water.”

And that wraps up HUM's final full day of coverage of the Venice Biennale. Check back tomorrow for final thoughts!


19 April 2024
Day #3 - Venice Vernissage

The day began with a conversation with Brett Graham, whose work Wastelands (2024) is included in the curated section of the Biennale, Stranieri Ovunque – Strangers Everywhere. We spoke with Brett about being invited to participate in the Biennale by curator Adriano Pedrosa, what it’s like to be exhibiting alongside his father, Fred Graham, and Wastelands as an assertion of the value of the whenua (land) in our moment of climate crisis.

Our conversation with Brett will be released as part of our upcoming podcast series, Crossing Currents: Aotearoa New Zealand artists in Venice. Speaking to the influence of his father's works, Brett says:

“There are those four stories I grew up with. Look at the themes of [Fred Graham's] work. One of the most fundamental elements is that they’re homages to nature and homages to Papatūānuku. Māui Steering the Sun [Whiti Te Rā] and the Tinirau [and the Whale] story are very much about what happens when humans manipulate nature, but they’re also very fundamental stories – pūrākau, we call them – lay out how people deal with situations.”

At lunchtime, we went to Ocean Space, where Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi, Waikato Tainui, Sāmoan, Tokelauan) is presenting The Body of Wainuiātea as part of Re-stor(y)ing Oceania with Tongan artist Latai Taumoepeau. Curated by Bougainville-born Taloi Havini, Re-stor(y)ing Oceania platforms artists based in Te-Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa, using an ancestral call and response method to seek solidarity and kinship at a time when many Pacific Islands are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change.

While there, we also listened to a panel discussion between the upcoming Sharjah Biennial 16’s co-curators, including Natasha Ginwala, Amal Khalaf, Alia Swastika and Aotearoa curator Megan Tamati-Quennell. As a guiding question, SB16 asks what it means to carry a home, ancestors and political formations with you and privileges the sonic and the embodied as modes of knowledge, recall and political imagining.

Each speaker opened with a song, attesting to the role of the sonic and the sensory within SB 16. Megan offered a song by Mara TK, an artist and musician who is part of Megan’s curatorial selection for the biennial. Megan’s curatorial contribution is informed by First Nations positionality related to land and place, drawing out intercultural resonances with the locality of Sharjah, as well as notions related to impermanence and failure. She has also invited Aotearoa artists Kate Newby, Michael Parekōwhai and Saffron Te Ratana to present works, alongside Kapulani Landgraf, Brian Martin and Yhonnie Scarce.

This afternoon, we spoke with Rychèl Therin, artist, researcher and writer based in Vienna, about the work of Mataaho Collective and their Biennale presentation, Takapau. She spoke about the power of Takapau as an installation and the way in which their practice — led by an “eight hands, four minds" approach — embodies the role of collectivity and inclusivity in Te Ao Māori.

Giving context to Takapau, Rychèl said this in relation to Taniwha Tales, an online archive that accompanied the work Kiko Moana (2017), commissioned for documenta 14:

“I love that even back then they were thinking, 'How do we bring our community with us? How do we ground this piece in mātauranga Māori? How do we create an all-encapsulating experience when we can’t be there and it’s being outside of its context in a way?'”

Then, to Giardini for a final glimpse of the national pavilions. Jeffrey Gibson’s the space in which to place me for the United States, John Akomfrah’s Listening All Night to the Rain for Great Britain and Yuko Mohra’s Compose for Japan were standouts. Gibson's psychedelic, multi-media presentation weaves America’s constitutional history with Indigenous politics; Akomfrah’s eight-part video installation engages “acoustemology” as a way to “listen to” and interrogate colonial histories; and Mohra references the inventive solutions to leaks practiced by Tokyo subway maintenance workers to examine the relationship between creativity and crisis. 

And to finish the day, we attended the opening of Personal Structures at Palazzo Mora, which includes work by Aotearoa artists Robert Jahnke, Areez Katki, Caitlin Devoy and Mizuho Nishioka. Congratulations to these artists for their presentations!


18 April 2024
Day #2 - Venice Vernissage

The day started with a breakfast hosted by the French editorial platform Textwork, with which Contemporary HUM Founding Director Pauline Autet is also involved as Editorial Coordinator.

The rest of the day was spent in Giardini and Arsenale, between the national pavilions and the curated exhibition, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere. As one of the foci of the curated exhibition, Indigenous artists have a palpable presence throughout the Biennale, with the facade of the Central Pavilion covered in work by Brazilian Indigenous collective MAHKU.

Beginning in the Central Pavilion in Giardini, we met the work of Sandy Adsett (Ngāti Pahauwera) and Selwyn Wilson (Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hine). Both were contextualised as part of the Nucleo Storico, the section of Foreigners Everywhere dedicated to global modernisms in the 20th century, a central theme of this year’s curated section. Sandy’s work Waipuna (1978) is included in the room titled “Abstractions”; while it could be understood as geometric abstraction, Waipuna’s arrangement of forms explore kōwhaiwhai (Māori pattern motifs) as expression of whakapapa (genealogy), history and place. Selwyn’s Study of a Head (1948), featured in the “Portraits” gallery, is said to be a portrait of his nephew Ponga Pomare Kingi Chaerington and reveals Selwyn’s interest in representing Māori subjectivity.

Other highlights from Giardini include Rise of the Sunken Sun at The Danish Pavilion, which features a poetic yet uncompromising photographic installation by Greenlandic artist Innuteq Stroch that aims to subvert stereotypes of the Danish North Atlantic Colony through a combination of archival and contemporary documentation. The Australia Pavilion, which features kith and kin by Archie Moore, was also a standout – an affecting presentation that featured a near-endless genealogical graph inscribed in chalk on dark walls surrounding a central installation of documents related to deaths of First Nations people in custody.

The Israel Pavilion was also a significant point of interest. The curators and artists have stated that they are withholding the opening of the pavilion until "a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached" between Israel and Hamas, and the poster announcing this decision posted on the window of the pavilion was a popular photo opportunity for many passing by. Notably, when we entered the Giardini at the beginning of the day, there was a small action held by Italian Palestinian solidarity group Assopasso Palestina.

Now to Arsenale: as the site of the Nucelo Contemporaneo section of Foreigners Everywhere, the works in the Arsenale broached the broad theme of the “stranger,” encompassing migration, nomadic and diasporic identities, queer identities, and indigeneity.

Mataaho Collective’s Takapau (2022) greets visitors as they enter Foreigners Everywhere, a monumental, embracing form that transforms the historical site of the Corderie into a waharoa (gateway to a marae, meeting house), marking a moment of birth and a threshold or transition between Te Ao Marama (the realm of light) and Te Ao Atua (the realm of gods).

Occupying a central position in the next room is Brett Graham’s Wastelands (2024), a large carved pātaka (storehouse) placed on wheels and covered in the forms of tuna (eels). The work references New Zealand’s Waste Lands Act of 1858, which declared wetlands “unoccupiable” and in turn transformed what was a rich resource for Māori into land sanctioned for agricultural development. 

Next to Brett’s Wastelands are several works by his father, Fred Graham. Whiti Te Rā (1966) combines the forms of customary carving with oil stick, while Ngā Tamariki a Tangaroa (Children of the Sea God) (1970), Tinirau and the Whale (1971) and Maui Steals the Sun (1971) deconstruct traditional carved forms into experimental assemblages that include references to narratives about the origins of carving.


17 April 2024
Day #1 - Venice Vernissage

After a blustery arrival last night, we began our first day in Venice holding interviews for Contemporary HUM's upcoming podcast series, Crossing Currents: Aotearoa New Zealand Artists in Venice. We began by speaking with three of the Aotearoa artists presenting in Palazzo Mora as part of Personal Structures, a biennial exhibition that runs in parallel with the Venice Biennale.

First, we spoke with Caitlin Devoy about her presentation Body Objects. Caitlin's work transforms everyday objects such as light switches and recorders into soft, fleshy silicone sculptures that sit between body and object, disrupting easy recognition by viewers. Rather, the sculptures employ the haptic qualities of their materials and sensual forms to engage viewers in a bodily experience, championing embodied knowledge over the primacy of the mind and its gendered associations.

Some highlights from our conversation with Caitlin:

“An artist that I really like, Maurizio Cattelan, he describes laughter as a trojan horse. It really is. It’s like a stealth approach to revealing serious concerns without being boring and didactic about it. There’s a really rich history of feminist and queer artists using humour as a form of rebellion against male power structures. Because humour is like the honey and the bee sting combined and I think that’s why I’m drawn to it.”

We then spoke with Robert Jahnke about his work Te Wepu MMXXIII, which draws from an artistic whakapapa (genealogy) of symbolic appropriations that extend throughout the colonial history of Aotearoa New Zealand to the present. The point of reference is a flag created by missionary nuns that features the iconic symbols of a cross, a mountain, a bleeding heart, a crescent moon, and a star, which were taken up by the 19th-century Māori prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki, and later in the work of Māori artist Paratene Matchitt. 

Speaking to changes in the symbols' meaning throughout time and in different places, Robert says:

“For me the opportunity to put it up in Venice was really an opportunity to get a sense of how Italians might react to it, or how international visitors might react to these particular symbols, and they’ll have no idea what it means as far as looking at the symbols are concerned. But they might say, 'Whoa, within my culture, this is what it means. I wonder if he is thinking about that.' I like that idea of being able to take an ancient symbol and putting it into a contemporary context and to see how people respond to that.”

Lastly, we spoke with Areez Katki about his presentation The Rhapsode’s Tools Will Build the Rhapsode’s House, which includes a series of textile- and a series of earth-based works that each seek to reframe received practices and lineages of language and learning, and the Western hegemonic taxonomies within which these become encoded.

Talking to Areez about the relationship between his work and archaeology, he says:

"It brings to the fore a queer relationality with material culture which I suppose might be framed as a notional or a counter archaeology, one that reframes, or at least tries to reframe the discipline as a restorative one, a caring one, one that doesn’t have acquisitive or colonial ties anymore and it’s something that I’m still figuring out. On another hand, something that I’m trying to navigate, however obliquely, is a way to place the notion of excavation in the realm of play, almost kind of an innocent child-like state or by relational proximity to the material world.” 

To close out the day, a group of Aotearoa artists, patrons of New Zealand at Venice, and whānau and friends gathered along the Grand Canal to celebrate the achievements of the artists with spritzes and cicchetti. It was a bitterly cold evening, but the company was warm, and we look forward to seeing the work of Mataaho, Brett Graham, Fred Graham, Sandy Adsett and Selwyn Wilson in the International Exhibition tomorrow. Until then, salute to all the artists involved!

Amanda Hereaka from Creative New Zealand speaking at the artist and patrons' get-together on the Grand Canal, Venice, 17 April 2024. Photo: Contemporary HUM. 

Amanda Hereaka from Creative New Zealand speaking at the artist and patrons' get-together on the Grand Canal, Venice, 17 April 2024. Photo: Contemporary HUM. 


Contemporary HUM to cover vernissage of Venice Biennale 2024

From 16—21 April 2024, Contemporary HUM will once again publish exclusive coverage of La Biennale di Venezia and related events, in partnership with Creative New Zealand.

As in previous years, HUM will post daily updates, videos, and images from the opening week vernissage of the 60th International Art Exhibition – on this page, in the HUM newsletter and on HUM's social media platforms. HUM will also be publishing exclusive interviews with participating artists from Aotearoa throughout the duration of the Biennale (20 April—24 November 2024).
While this edition of the Biennale will not feature a dedicated New Zealand pavilion (a subject covered in this special publication), the curated section, titled Stranieri Ovunque - Foreigners Everywhere, will include the most Aotearoa artists to date: Brett Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), Fred Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), Mataaho Collective, Sandy Adsett (Ngāti Pahauwera) and Selwyn Wilson (Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hine).

Drawing its name from a series of multilingual neon sculptures by the Paris-born and Palermo-based collective Claire Fontaine, the central exhibition aims to share the histories of modernisms in the Global South and focuses on four themes in particular: the queer artist, who has moved within different sexualities and genders, often being persecuted or outlawed; the outsider artist, who is located at the margins of the art world, much like the self-taught artist; the folk artist and the artista popular; and the indigenous artist, frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land.

“The expression Stranieri Ovunque”, explains curator Adriano Pedrosa, “has several meanings. First of all, that wherever you go and wherever you are you will always encounter foreigners— they/we are everywhere. Secondly, that no matter where you find yourself, you are always truly, and deep down inside, a foreigner.”

HUM will also be covering the Aotearoa artists presenting in other events at various locations in the historic city center of Venice. At Palazzo Mora, Areez Katki, Caitlin Devoy, Mizuho Nishioka and Robert Jahnke (Ngāi Taharora, Te Whānau a Iritekura, Te Whānau a Rakairo o Ngāti Porou) are individually presenting work in Personal Structures, an exhibition organised by the European Cultural Centre.

Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi, Waikato Tainui, Sāmoan, Tokelauan) is involved in Re-Stor(y)ing Oceania, an exhibition at Ocean Space from 23 March—13 October 2024.

Israel Randell (Rarotongan, Tainui, Ngāti Kahungunu) and Matariki Williams (Tūhoe, Ngāti Hauiti, Taranaki, Ngāti Whakaue) will also be in attendance, having been selected for Creative Australia's (re)situate delegates programme. 

Stay tuned for more information on these artists and exclusive images from their projects!