Bahrain and Lebanon have both announced that they are withdrawing from the Venice Biennale, an international showcase of art set to take place this June. Both countries cited political turmoil and instability as the reason. Egypt’s participation is still to be determined. Along with neighboring countries Azerbaijan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, they represent a record 88 countries that were scheduled to participate in one of the most prestigious art shows in the world.
This would have been Bahrain’s debut appearance in the showcase and Lebanon’s second year of participation.
Last year, Bahrain made its first appearance at the Venice Architecture Biennale, where it presented a project planned to develop shoreline areas where water has receded off the coast. According to Culture Minister Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the goal of the project was to “portray in an objective way a segment of our urban landscape, sharing with you the challenges which lay ahead of us in the hope that a shared debate can be raised.” The jury was reportedly impressed with its “lucid and forceful self-analysis of the nation’s relationship with its rapidly changing coastline” and awarded the country the Golden Lion Award for best pavilion.
Lebanon was first
Lebanon first appeared in the Biennale in 2007, with official support from the government and private funding from the Lebanese community. The curators stated that Lebanon joined “at a time of grave political crisis in the country- when the concept of the nation has once again been called rather roughly, even violently into question.”
According to curators, Lebanon’s Biennale introduction in 2007 “shows the country’s cultural life very much as it is- improvisational but vital, unusually organized but determined nonetheless. A cogent, critical conemporary art scene has been developing in Beirut for the past decade or more through similar such efforts. And, in fact, the lack of state support for the arts is liberating in the sense that artists, curators, dealers and more tend to operate without political interference. The same can be said for Lebanon’s first outing at Venice.”
This year, the country planned an exhibition called “Lebanon State of Mind” to present Lebanon, and nationhood for that matter, as an ongoing story written by the many and not the few and “an idea to inherit from someone who came before, an idea to relate to, and an address to another that would come after.”
Lebanon’s coalition government fell apart in January, and the country still has yet to form a new one.
Egypt’s plans unclear, Iraq returnsAlthough the Biennale has not received official confirmation, Egypt says it will participate this year and focus its pavilion on artist Ahmed Bassiouny, who died of asphyxiation from tear gas on January 28, the fourth day of the country’s uprising. They plan to present his “work as well as his January 25 revolution videos.”
This year also marks the first year Iraq will present a pavilion since 1976. The country plans to showcase two generations of Iraqi artists, those who were born in the 1950s, and those who grew up during the Iran-Iraq War and the invasion of Kuwait. Titled “Acqua Ferita” (“Wounded Water” in Italian), the curators chose a theme that would “shift the Iraq conversation away from war.”
“Terrorism is a theme people are fed up with,” said art commissioner Ali Assaf. “There are other problems, such as water loss in the region, that no one thinks about.”
Now in its 54th run, the 2011 Venice Biennale will run from June 4 through November 27. Other countries making their debut appearances include Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Haiti. Its theme this year is “ILLUMInations.”
Photo courtesy of Dalbera via Flickr
Above: Bahrain's Golden Lion Award-winning project at last year's Venice Architecture Biennale