In a first, the Republic of Benin will be represented in a national pavilion at the forthcoming edition of the Venice Biennale in 2024, the country said in a statement. The move comes as African countries continue to join the contemporary art exhibition.
The West African country’s pavilion will be organized by the curator Azu Nwagbogu, who heads the Lagos-based non-profit African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) as its director, according to the announcement on Monday by members of the Benin government overseeing culture.
Benin’s president Patrice Talon, alongside the country’s tourism manager Jean Michel Abimbola and museum staff at the National Gallery of Benin were a part of the selection committee that tapped Nwagbou to curate the debut pavilion. The Lagos-born curator, Nwagbogu, focuses on African art and photography.
In 2010, the curator helped launch Lagos’s Photo photography festival. He previously served as director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, where he helped organize exhibitions focused on Zimbabwean contemporary painters.
In a statement, Talon described the curator as the “perfect candidate” to promote the country’s “cultural heritage and contemporary art to the world,” on the international stage in Venice. Talon’s administration has been active in advocating repatriation efforts around artifacts looted from Benin since 2016, when he was elected. In 2021, the Benin government officials forged an agreement with France to receive 26 objects illegally taken by the French military more than a century ago.
According to Benin’s release on the pavilion’s plans, Nwagbogu’s role in curating the pavilion will be “to contribute to the construction of the intellectual architecture that will allow Benin to sustain and deploy the great artistic potential that springs from its land and has traversed its various diasporas.” Nwagbogu has yet to detail official plans for the pavilion.
Nwagbogu has actively promoted for the increased presence of African countries at the Venice Biennale. The participation has risen in recent editions of the international showcase. In 2019, Ghana and Madagascar made their debuts, while Cameroon, Namibia and Uganda brought their inaugural pavilions in 2022.