When I visited Venice eighteen years ago it was overrun with migrants. The experience left a vivid and lasting impression. It also made the invitation to the 60th Venice Biennial all the more ironic, considering the theme “Foreigners Everywhere.” Unsurprisingly, numerous pavilions delved into the ongoing impact of colonialism. As for my highlights? They are the Netherlands Pavilion – Ced’art Tamasala – which focused on the lives of plantation workers, typically erased by our fixation on consumerism, at the expense of hidden and exploited labour. Then there’s the Spanish Pavilion. Gamarra’s research delves into over 150 Spanish heritage paintings and artefacts across public collections and museums, spanning from the Empire to the Enlightenment, revealing the absence of decolonial narratives and bias in the representation of colonizers and the oppressed within museum contexts. This interdisciplinary revisionist approach intertwines sociology, politics, art history, and biology reinterprets and connects historical consequences to overlooked contemporary issues. While the Egyptian Pavilion gives us Wael Shawky’s challenge to conventional historical narratives of the Arab world by employing puppets, actors, sculptures, and drawings that transport audiences into his meticulously crafted alternate realities. Commissioned for the Biennale Arte 2024, Shawky’s “Drama 1882” explores Egypt’s Urabi revolution against imperial rule (1879-1882). Led by Colonel Ahmed Urabi, the revolution sought to reclaim Egypt for its people. However, the film zooms in on the pivotal events of 1882, particularly a cafe altercation between an Egyptian and a Maltese man, which sparked deadly riots and led to the British bombardment of Alexandria. Through meticulous historical inquiry, Shawky questions whether the cafe incident was a spontaneous event or a pretext orchestrated by the British to justify their military intervention. Shot in a historic theatre in Alexandria, with elaborate sets and period costumes, Shawky’s precise direction brings this tumultuous period to vivid life, prompting viewers to reevaluate the complexities of colonialism and resistance.

This exhibit stood out as a personal favourite of mine. The artist’s intriguing use of colour in depicting scenes was captivating. Despite portraying years of colonial abuse, the choice of soft, pale hues for the expansive mountains imbued the artwork with a sense of sensitivity. The deliberate slow movements emphasized the significance of each individual within the narrative. Surprisingly, the music and messages conveyed a rhythm that was not characterised by anger or aggression but rather lent a humanity to the Egyptian culture and its people. While consoling, it was nevertheless disheartening to witness that despite the passage of time, we continue to confront similar tragedies, still subject to the influence of global superpowers. While creating awareness is often cited as the first step towards change, it’s clear that mere awareness isn’t always enough. Change needs to be reinforced swiftly to avert the mass devastation we’re experiencing today. This requires concerted efforts at various levels, including grassroots activism, policy reform, international cooperation, and holding those in power accountable for their actions. Additionally, fostering a collective sense of urgency and responsibility among individuals and communities can help drive momentum towards meaningful change.

The Benin Pavilion is definitely worth a visit! The centrepiece, resembling a hut or dome and crafted from recycled oil/gas cans, showcases remarkable ingenuity in design. The curator’s stunning outfit adds another layer of brilliance to the experience. Well done, Azu! Then there is the South African Pavilion. “Quiet Ground” beautifully celebrates how the land quietly grounds us, acknowledging its generous capacity to absorb the trauma entrenched in centuries of violation. It’s a poignant recognition of nature’s healing power and the earth’s resilience. Without being unduly partisan, much respect to our South African pavilion for addressing atrocities that are currently occurring in the world in their unquestionably powerful opening