THE 56th VENICE BIENNALE officially opens to the public on May 9 and black artists are at the forefront. The entrance to the Central Pavilion in the Gardini is festooned with a series of black fabric panels by Oscar Murillo, the U.S.-based Colombian artist, hanging among its neoclassical columns. A neon text work by American artist Glenn Ligon featuring the words “blues blood bruise” is installed above, obscuring the “la Biennale” sign that has long identified the building.

Equal parts intriguing and funereal, it’s a bold start to Artistic Director Okwui Enwezor’s “All the World’s Futures.” Comparing current global conditions to the turmoil that followed each of the World Wars, he has said the international exhibition is a response to economic, political and social crises, including “a humanitarian catastrophe on the high seas, deserts, and borderlands, as immigrants, refugees, and desperate peoples seek refuge in seemingly calmer and prosperous lands,” and the uncertainty and insecurity that accompanies such desperate disorder.

Equal parts intriguing and funereal, it’s a bold start to Artistic Director Okwui Enwezor’s ‘All the World’s Futures.’

From an American perspective, one must add the recurring incidents of unarmed black men and youth being killed by police officers and the fraught relations between local police departments and the African American and/or poor communities they serve.

Ligon’s neon expands on two works presented at the Camden Arts Centre in London last fall, his first solo exhibition in the UK. There, “blues” and “bruise” neons were on view. In a video for that exhibition, Ligon explains that the testimony of the Harlem Six (half a dozen black youth arrested for murder during the 1964 Harlem race riot that resulted after a white off duty police officer shot and killed a black student. Five of the six were eventually released after years of trials.) was the source for the work.

“I had to open the bruise up to let some of the bruise blood come out to show them that I had been injured,” he recalls one of them saying in his testimony. “He actually makes a slip of the tongue, ‘I had to open the bruise up to let the blues blood out to show them.'”

Fifty years ago we had stop-and-frisk in New York, Ligon states, and the police tactic still exists today.



IN ADDITION TO THE INTERNATIONAL SHOW curated by Enwezor, 86 countries are participating in Venice Biennale, presenting national shows in the historic pavilions on the grounds of the Gardini. There are also 44 collateral events, including a production of “Norma,” at Teatro La Fenice with stage, set and costume design directed by American artist Kara Walker.

The international exhibition includes 136 artists from 53 countries. As Culture Type reported in March, more than 35 black artists are participating.

And more African artists than ever before were invited to show at the biennial. “That’s simply the way of the world, Enwezor told ARTnews: “We are in a moment that we can say is a very strong challenge to Western exceptionalism. We have really entered into an era of post-Westernism.”

Architect David Adjaye deigned The Arena, a performance space, within the Central Pavilion. Live readings of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital (Capital)” will be staged at the site, a project directed by British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien.

The late Terry Adkins, Melvin Edwards, Charles Gaines, Theaster Gates, Kay Hassan, Kerry James Marshall, Steve McQueen, Jason Moran, Chris Ofili, Adrian Piper and Lorna Simpson, among others, are also featured in “All the World’s Futures.” CT




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