The South African Department of Arts and Culture has appointed Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu of Natal Collective to curate The South African Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition. The South African Pavilion will showcase works by the artists Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose and Mawande Ka Zenzile from 11 May to 24 November 2019. Corporate Icons Media has also been appointed for logistics and communications support.

The commissioner, Consul-General Titi Nxumalo will work alongside the Natal Collective to organize The South African exhibition at the La Biennale Di Venezia Arsenale. South Africa’s participation at the La Biennale di Venezia is made possible through the support from The Department of Arts and Culture.

The three artists that have been selected to represent South Africa explore the themes of social, political and economic resilience under the title “The Stronger We Become”, the aim of which is capturing the collective fortitude of South Africans and is in response to the 2019 curatorial theme, May You Live In Interesting Time, set by Ralph Rugoff. Rugoff suggests that “uncertainty, crisis and turmoil” makes it necessary to focus on “art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking.

“This international arts exhibition in Venice is an important platform to showcase South Afric’s rich and varied artistic talent, especially in the year in which South Africa celebrates 25 years of freedom and democracy,” says Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

The exhibition’s curators, Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu, who are both based at the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town, say, “The proposed theme engages with the determination and tenacious spirit of South Africans.” It is also informed by the emphasis, in South Africa, on social cohesion in a previously divided country which tends to “overlook and downplay that the tenacity required to overcome difficult histories and harsh socio-economic conditions” many South Africans have and continue to find themselves in.

“Resilience then becomes one of the crucial aspects in understanding South Africa and its people. We need to be able to celebrate our many achievements, while we also confront our shortcomings. While South Africa remains a fragmented society with a fragile political landscape, there is still agency reflected in these artists’ works that buoys social resistance,” the curators explain.

The intention of this exhibition is not only to recognise the brilliance of this trio of artists but also to open up debates about the narratives of social resilience that are reflected in their creative practice. The objective is to curate the pavilion to symbolize freedom of expression, the freedom to create challenging work and the freedom to present dissenting voices that displace geographical space and speak for self-determination.

The exhibition, as the curators affirm, brings together artists and artworks that probe and approach the theme differently in order to explore the ability of South Africans to endure historical traumas while not losing their ability to laugh, learn and continue with their daily lives.

Dineo Seshee Bopape offers intuitive installations that transform spaces into meditative arenas where historical narratives, fiction and personal narratives are wittingly interwoven, while Mawande KaZenzile’s work draws from African epistemology and the foundations laid by the father of Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Bantu Biko (1977) as well as African postcolonial thought leader and Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Tracey Rose’s work reflects the cultural, economic and political differences that mark the contemporary world and in particular post-apartheid South Africa, along with identity-related issues. She investigates questions of gender and colour through the visual motifs of her own body. Her unapologetic and resolute work takes on socio-political issues through idiosyncrasies presented by the post-apartheid South African way of life.

All the selected artists are internationally renowned and in different but analogous ways tackle difficult issues on social injustice. Their artworks articulate these issues but do so through satire and play.

The South African Pavilion
Biennale Arte