In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • A Summer of Art?
  • Nadine Siegert (bio)

2017 was supposed to be one of these special years: a summer of the arts, also coined as "Art-Mageddon 2017" in some European art magazines.1 It was the year that aligned three major European art events—the Venice Biennale as well as Documenta in Kassel and Skulptur Projekte Münster, the latter two in Germany. Whereas Venice is on the agenda every second year for global art travelers and the elite of artists and curators in the field of contemporary arts, they have to wait five or ten years respectively to visit Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster. In the debates on contemporary arts, these events are regarded as indicators for the developments in the international art world. The rare concurrence of the three events invited comparisons concerning format and content, the rigor and coherence of the curatorial concept, the quality of the display and the selected art projects and—of particular interest for the readership of African Arts—the appearance of African and African Diaspora artists in the shows.

One has to acknowledge the differences between the art events not only in regard to their specific history but also to their profile and mission: from the oldest Biennale of the international art world in Venice to two contemporary art events that, from their beginnings, have often been venues for very controversial debates around art, politics, and public space. The resulting debates around participation and neglect, presence and absence of artistic positions from the Global South, therefore sit in front of different backgrounds. Whereas Venice is (still) based on the dual concept of a main show curated by an artistic director and the individual presence of a growing number of national pavilions, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster were always meant to "curate the present"2 by working along more or less explicit curatorial concepts that also often reflected topical political discourses. All three events are born in very distinct moments in time and engage very differently with their own history. The Venice Biennale and Documenta will be the focus of this First Word, since I had the opportunity to visit only these two.


Venice's major art show had its first edition in 1895 and already in its early years it opened up European avant-garde art movements. African sculptures were shown in 1922, but after that year, African artists were not shown at the Venice Biennale until the 1990s. The exhibitions "Authentic-Ex/Centric" curated by Salah Hassan (2001),3 "Fault Lines" curated by Gilane Tawadros (2003),4 as well as the controversial so-called African Pavilion that showcased the private collection of the Congolese businessmen Sindika Dokolo under the title "Check List Luanda Pop" (2007)5 were then dedicated to African and African Diaspora artists. In 2015, the Nigerian museum director and curator Okwui Enwezor, who had been in the same position at Documenta in 2001, was the Head Curator of the 56th Venice Biennale. Enwezor's Biennale was therefore also the reference point in particular for the involvement of African artists, and the 2017 Biennale's curator Christine Macel from France failed at this point in particular. Projects by only nine African artists were shown in the main exhibition, themed "Viva Arte Viva," at Arsenale and Giardini.

Most of the national pavilions showcase only works by artists from their own countries. This can create an often unwelcome side effect, in that the artist thus becomes the "representative" of their country and is seen first and foremost as the "South African" or the "Egyptian" artist. Nevertheless, the

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Peju Alatise Flying Girls (2013–2016)

Metal, fiberglass, plaster of Paris, resins, cellulose, black matte paint; installation size 400 cm x 400 cm x 280 cm Nigeria Pavilion, Venice Biennial

all photos by Nadine Siegert

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Mohau Modisakeng Passage (2017)

Three channel video installation South Africa Pavilion, Venice Biennial

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Admire Kamudzengerere Registrar (2017)

Ink, acrylic, crayon, and glue on phone book pages Zimbabwe Pavilion, Venice Biennial

selection for the Venice Biennial is considered as...


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