Venice Biennale: Women outnumber male artists in the main halls for the first time | Venice Biennale 2022

There is no shortage of big art monsters in Venice, as the world’s most famous international art event, the City Biennale, is opened to the public.

Georg Baselitz made hanging works in the 18th-century stucco frames that held portraits of the Grimani family in their palace. Mark Quinn is on display at the National Archaeological Museum. Anselm Kiefer covered the walls of a huge room in the Palazzo Ducale with paintings studded with shoes, clothes, metal, and even a ladder.

It can be said, however, that the dominant spirit of the event lies behind these impressively composed exhibitions. In the main venues of the Biennale – the Giardini and the Arsenale in the city – the lone white artist is not in the mood. Instead, for the first time, female artists outnumber men – almost nine to one.

Cecilia Alemani, Artistic Director of the 2022 Venice Biennale in Venice.
Cecilia Alemani, Artistic Director of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Photo: David Levine/The Guardian

Of the more than 200 artists curated by Cecilia Al Yamani in her huge master gallery, the vast majority are women. One of its sites, Giardini’s International Wing, contains no male artists at all, only women and a small number of non-binary and transgender artists.

“I’ve always worked with many female artists – and I think some of the most talented female artists working today are women,” said the Italian and US-based curator.

Historically, about 10% of the artists in the main gallery tend to be women, rising to 30% in recent years; In 2019, UK-based curator Ralph Rogoff achieved near parity for the first time. Al Yamani presented about 90% of the women.

Bringing back the magic of Magorzata Merga Tass to the world at the Polish Pavilion, Venice.
Bringing back the magic of Magorzata Merga Tass to the world at the Polish Pavilion, Venice. Photo: Daniel Rumiansu/Zachta National Gallery of Art

“I don’t care about stakes,” she added, “but it’s remarkable that people are obsessed with my show and have never found male dominance.” [in previous editions] shocking.”

Characteristic of the atmosphere of the Biennale, for example, is the Polish pavilion: Romanian artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas covered the walls of the building with textile-like decorations, based in part on the frescoes at Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, which pay tribute to the individual pioneers of Roma women.

Adjacent to the Polish pavilion, the Romanian pavilion spoken by Adina Pintilie and her team of collaborators, whom she describes as “remarkable, brave, soul seekers,” including gay, transgender, and disabled people, challenges normative views of relationships, body and intimacy. She said in her film work “You are the last me – the cathedral of the body”, she was interested in “opening different ways of communicating with different bodies and different beauties.”

You Are Me Another - Cathedral of the Body, by Adina Pintelli, Roman Pavilion, Giardini, Venice.
You Are Me Another – Cathedral of the Body, Designed by Adina Pintelli, Roman Pavilion, Venice. Photo: David Levine/The Guardian

Black women occupy some of the most prominent national wings: sculptor Simon Lee for the United States; Sonia Boyce on Great Britain. Zineb Sedira is of Algerian origin from France.

“I am an artist working in a world dominated by men,” said Sedira, whose exhibition reflects on the history of Algerian, French and Italian cinema. “The world of cinema in the 1960s and 1970s was definitely a man’s world. I really wanted to recast this space as a woman, Algerian, Muslim, French and British.”

Like the Boyce Gallery, which features black female musicians, Sedira’s show is integral to ideas of friendship. The same is true of the Alberta Whittle Exhibition for Scotland, which reflects on the shocking history of the slave trade and colonialism between Africa, Scotland and Barbados, where I was born.

Ahlam has no titles, Zineb Sedira, French Pavilion, Giardini, Venice.
Ahlam has no titles, Zainab Sedira, French Pavilion, Venice. Photo: David Levine/The Guardian

“I find it interesting that so many of us — Sonia Boyce, Simon Lee — are members of the West Indian diaspora,” said Glasgow-based Whittle. “It is a perspective that has long been overlooked.” Whittle said her work is tender and poignant after all, “in a spirit of hope and anger.” She said it was a “stressful situation” to be the first black woman to represent her country, along with Boyce, Lee, and Sedira. “However, I feel proud. It is like showing my work in the big league.”

“The world wakes up and realizes that the time has finally come,” Al Yamani said. “I think it is baffling that although the American Pavilion was built in 1930, and the British Pavilion was built in 1912, it has taken so far for black women to occupy. But we need to move beyond the trauma and use this time to reflect on the past, reinterpret history and understand how We’ve come to this point.”

Alberta Whittle in front of her artwork in Venice
Alberta Whittle’s work reflects the shocking history of the slave trade and colonialism between Africa, Scotland, and Barbados. Photo: David Levine/The Guardian

She said her exhibition, titled Milk of Dreams, was “a reconsideration of human centrality, to celebrate a different relationship with the planet, nature and different species.” This included “decentralization in the West, usually a white man’s perspective”. She referred to the work, for example, of the Colombian artist Delcy Morelos, whose work was a discovery of which she was researching in her gallery, and whose large floor “maze” occupies one of the vast spaces of the Arsenal.

She explained that Morelos’ composition is “filled with tobacco, cocoa powder and cloves.” “You experience art with fullness of the body – something I’ve missed so much during the pandemic.”

The Venice Biennale runs until 27 November.

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