A glimpse into the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, with co-curator, Jess Taylor
Over the years, the Venice Biennale has stuck to the rigid structure of hosting their event through art pavilions representing different nations. It has been positioned like that for both an organisational and logistical reason, however, it forgets that globalisation is centuries old.
This year, Jess Taylor co-curator of the Diaspora pavilion welcomes a more honest reality of our world. She brings together 19 UK based, ethnically diverse artists with vastly differing practices, but whose narratives draw us to the truths of diaspora and human identity. We met with Jess while at Venice, her Q & A below.
How did the Diaspora Pavilion come to be?
The pavilion itself has been an idea that David Bailey my co-curator has been developing for probably the last ten years. He did a smaller version of a similar project in Liverpool in 2010, but he has always wanted to occupy a space within the Venice Biennale to showcase the work of artists who he believes have a level of ability within the biennale sphere in Venice. So the concept at the beginning took about a decade, and then we have been working on the current pavilion for about a year now.
The important elements here seem to be about occupying space, and an assertion of presence. Has there been a lot of opportunity for professional development for the artists as well?
Yes, it was incredibly important they were heavily involved in the proposal and development stage, as well as in the opening week. The events that we held were intentionally staged as spaces where artists could be present and speak to people as a part of a larger networking strategy.
How will the Diaspora Pavilion continue? How will you continue to support the artists?
The project itself will run until the end of 2018. We are going to continue the mentoring sessions, networking events and conferences with the artists for another year. The mission itself is only one part of a larger professional development program which is fundamentally linked to the mentors.
What ICF is trying to do is be a constant functioning network with people we have worked with over the past ten years. It functions as a hub for a larger network of practitioners. I hope all of the artists in this exhibition will continue to be a part of that.
Could you tell me a little bit about the professional development aspect?
The artists have all been paired with a mentor with whom they have one-to-one mentoring sessions for about a year. Some of the emerging artists had quite a lot of contact with their mentors, so some of the work has been developed through the conversations with them.
But there have been different kinds of relationships. Some artists are more interested in knowing about galleries and collectors than the actual aesthetic and development of the work. So depending on what different emerging artists need, different conversations have taken place.
The International Curators Forum are also holding masterclasses. We aim to do one once a month from now on. We bring either just the artists or curators together to address different things, either they or we think are relevant, led by certain practitioners who we think are exemplary in that field. So we will have ones around collecting, fundraising or with gallerists.
Could you tell me a little about the curatorial process involved?
The process began with a nation-wide open call. The selection process was not based at all on particular works, it was based fundamentally on practice. So looking at artists whose practices engaged with Diaspora as a wider concept. Once it was made I started working with the artists to develop a proposal. Then based on a site visit, we started to develop the work. There was a constant back and forth process in developing the proposal for the work that was going to be in the show.
Showing in Venice, what does it mean for you professionally and I suppose perhaps on a personal level as well?
I think it means different things for both David and I. He has been coming to Venice a lot longer than I have, and has done quite few projects here in the past. This connects quite strongly to him in a longer professional trajectory.
For me it was quite different because Venice has always represented something where I have not had a presence in, as the country I am from has never had a national pavilion. I am occupying a space that I have never nationally been connected to in any way. It is quite strange to do something of this scale at such an early stage in my career, so it has been an incredible challenge and learning experience. I think it has changed my thinking around what the biennale is and what it does. We were asked quite often, why Venice? Why not do this somewhere else? Why do you need to be here? I think perhaps this year particularly it was an important statement to make - that there is room and a necessity for these conversations within the biennale sphere.
Could you tell me a bit about your perspective on nationalism and the biennale?
Diaspora is normally a term that is linked to national locality and ethnicity. For me it is very important that we visit that. I always channel my line about everyone being from somewhere else; everyone in this show has connections to more than one place. That is what we are trying to underline and explore. 19 different marriages about what that means.
In quite a strong resistance to the model of the national pavilion and to the model of representation in that way, I hope that it functions as a tool to resist that kind of simplification and reductive way of identity. I do realise that ethnicity gets raised a lot when you say Diaspora, but I think that resisting that simplification is important.
What would be the most satisfying outcomes you could have from this project?
Every emerging artist in the show has a show next year. Anywhere in the world, every one of them has a show.
Larry Achiampong, Barby Asante, Sokari Douglas Camp, Libita Clayton, Kimathi Donkor, Michael Forbes, Ellen Gallagher, Nicola Green, Joy Gregory. Isaac Julien, Dave Lewis, Hew Locke, Susan pui san lok, Paul Maheke, Khadija Saye, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Erika Tan, Barbara Walker, Abbas Zahedi.
More info here: Diaspora Pavillion
Guest Author: Nephertiti Schandorf