2 October 2013
Participation and the presentation of the Arab countries in the Venice Biennale in its 55th edition are quite evident. Several Arab pavilions’ works revolved around the country’s political and societal status, including Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.
The Iraqi and Lebanese Pavilion works both discussed the theme of war in their exhibited artworks, maybe not so evidently, but also the post-war effect on the country and its people through the artists’ artworks; a reflection of their own experiences with war using different medias such as carton paper and film. Bahrain and Kuwait artworks touched upon political and societal topics through figurative representations of women and the veil through photographs and drawings; sculpted figures of the country’s sheikh/ruler. The discussed themes touch base with ‘home.’ Familiar with the background history and society of the artist’s, visitors can make a connection as to why the artists decided to discuss and exhibit such artworks. Although the works discuss themes that can extend to a larger audience, they are, in themselves very limited through their specificness. Open to interpretation to an extent, one may find it difficult to stray away from the mainstream ideas and connotations associated with such artworks. For one, I did not get the opportunity to develop any intimate feelings with the works. The idea, concept, point of view – the feelings of the artist towards the subject matter, they were all there, very prominently. It may draw the viewer closer into the artist’s state of mind, but also creates an atmosphere of reactions but within constraints.
Whilst on the other hand, there’s the Israeli Pavilion. The work exhibited in the pavilion document an underground journey, fictional, from Isreal to Venice. Taken by a small community of people, the pavilion’s space was turned into a workshop, where the group started to sculpt themselves. ‘The Workshop,’ is a video installation documenting the group’s journey of sculpting and creating sounds. It discusses the journey of underground networking across national boarders that goes undetected, while using the pavilion’s space itself as an interactive and essential part of the work.
Geographically being the only thing that connects both, politics aside, the Israel Pavilion works exhibits a developed stage of contemporary artworks. The works can appeal and connect with a larger group of audience. It allows for the viewer to formulate their own opinion, it allows them to interact with the work by creating their own connections with the work. Those connections are lacking in the Arab pavilions. Their topic specification; the dwelling and mourning with the past and focusing on societal taboo’s creates a limitation as to how far the works can go in today’s art world. Letting go of such apparent focal points in the Middle Eastern art will allow for the region’s art scene to progress and keep pace with the progression of the international art scene.
The Biennale provides a great platform for countries to represent their countries best artworks, works that can be seen alongside other international works. The Arab pavilions should not be afraid to showcase works that are not nationalistically related. Such works do not necessarily show strong national and societal affiliations; patriotic artworks have the tendency to act against themselves in an international scene.