The Kenyan pavillion at the Venice Biennale will again this year be filled with non-Kenyan artists who are mostly Chinese, according to NPR. Previous complaints about dealing infiltrating the non-commercial biennale failed to touch on this blatant example of selling access to Chinese artists looking to burnish their CVs:
In Nairobi, where the Kenyan contemporary art scene is gaining traction with serious art buyers, the news is being felt not just as an artistic flop but as a colossal missed opportunity. “It’s a kick in the stomach,” says Sylvia Gichia, director of Kuona Trust, an artist’s collective and residency program in Nairobi. Organizations like hers work hard to bring Nairobi’s artistic renaissance to a global audience via art fairs and art auctions.
Needless to say she is dismayed that the 370,000 art lovers who visit the Biennale will see none of the work that’s driving the contemporary Kenyan scene. “What,” Gichia asks, “do the Chinese have to do with visual arts in Kenya?”
Nobody in Kenya’s government will answer that question. (Calls and texts to the personal cellphone of Nairobi’s minister of culture, Hassan Wario, went unanswered.) In most countries, the government either selects the artists or assigns that duty to a private gallery. In Kenya, the government apparently played no role other than to fob off the job to an Italian curator, Paola Poponi.
Poponi cannot say she has ever set foot in Kenya, but her official title is “commissioner” of the Kenyan pavilion, the same title she held in 2013. She defended the choice of artists, in an email liberal with capitalizations, saying that the Kenyan pavilion ably expressed the international theme of this 56th Biennale, which is All The World’s Futures.