Ghanaian-Scottish Architect Lesley Lokko Breaks Boundaries as First African Curator of the Venice Biennale

Lesley Lokko

In a historic and groundbreaking move, Ghanaian-Scottish architect and educator Lesley Lokko has shattered barriers by becoming the first African curator of the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale. This remarkable achievement marks a significant turning point in the world of architecture and cultural representation. Lokko, known for her innovative thinking and contributions to architecture and education, has undertaken a bold exploration of Africa’s influence on the global stage in her role as curator.

Born in Accra, Ghana, and raised between the diverse climates of Accra and coastal Dundee in Scotland, Lesley Lokko’s unique upbringing exposed her to the duality of worlds, climates, and cultures. She describes Scotland as “shiver” and Ghana as “sweat,” encapsulating the stark contrast in her early life experiences. This ability to straddle multiple worlds has become a defining feature of Lokko’s career, and it is precisely this talent that she brings to the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Titled “The Laboratory of the Future,” this year’s Biennale curated by Lokko is a bold exploration of Africa’s profound impact on the global stage and, conversely, the world’s impact on Africa. With over half of the Biennale’s 89 participants hailing from Africa or the African diaspora, Lokko has assembled a remarkable cohort of architects and artists who defy traditional definitions of architecture and geography.

image 45

Among the luminaries featured at the Biennale are renowned figures such as Pritzker Prize winner Diébédo Francis Kéré from Burkina Faso and Berlin, Sumayya Vally and Moad Musbahi from Johannesburg, London, Tripoli, and New York, and Brooklyn-based Nigerian visual artist Olalekan Jeyifous. Additionally, the noted British Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, recognized for his iconic design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., stands as a testament to the global reach of African architectural talent.

Lesley Lokko views this Biennale as a platform to engage with the world on Africa’s multifaceted identity. She points out that Sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing rapid urbanization and boasts a youthful population, many of whom are multilingual. She states, “The ability to be several things at once — traditional and modern, African and global, colonized and independent — is a strong thread running through the continent and the Diaspora.” This resilience and adaptability are qualities she believes will take center stage during the Biennale.

However, the journey to the Biennale has not been without its challenges. Lokko faced a visa crisis when Italy denied entry visas to three members of her curatorial team from Ghana, with one additional member still awaiting a response. The Italian ambassador in Ghana, Daniela d’Orlandi, cited the European Union’s visa code requirements but acknowledged the value of the Biennale’s focus on Africa.

Lesley Lokko’s deep involvement in issues of race, space, and architecture is evident throughout her career. She has received numerous accolades, including being named an officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for her services to architecture and education. In 2015, she founded a groundbreaking graduate school of architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Just months before her role as curator, she established the African Futures Institute in Accra, a Pan-African think tank aimed at filling gaps in architectural education.

Lesley Lokko’s vision for the Biennale goes beyond showcasing architectural innovation; it seeks to confront labels and redefine identities. She asserts that “those considered ‘minorities’ in the West are actually the global majority.” By using the Biennale as a platform, Lokko aims to highlight Africa’s capacity for creative exploration and expression.

In a world grappling with crises like climate change, rapid urbanization, migration, and the imperative to decolonize institutions, Lesley Lokko’s focus on hybrid forms of architectural practice is timely. She believes in the power of architects and artists to reimagine the world and shape a sustainable future.

As the Venice Architecture Biennale opens its doors to the public from May 20 to November 26, 2023, the world will witness Lesley Lokko’s extraordinary curation, which promises to challenge perceptions, celebrate diversity, and inspire a new generation of architects and thinkers. Ghanaian-Scottish architect Lesley Lokko has successfully curated this year’s Biennale in Venice, Italy. She becomes the first African to do so.

The fiction writer and academic is using her curation to give a platform to voices that have long been silenced.

This year’s architectural Biennale, the 18th, is titled “The Laboratory of the Future,” and explores decolonisation and decarbonisation.

The exhibition is heavily featuring works by Africans and the African diaspora, something Lokko said is very significant.

Global stars like David Adjaye and Theaster Gates are among 89 participants in the main show with more than half of them from Africa or the African diaspora.

To reduce the carbon footprint, Lokko encouraged the participating architects, artists and designers to be as “paper-thin” as possible with their exhibits, resulting in more drawings, film and projections, as well as the reuse of materials from last year’s contemporary art Biennale.

“The Black body was Europe’s first unit of energy. We have had a relationship to resources since time immemorial. We operate at a place where resources are not stable. They are also often fragile. They’re often exploited. Our relationship to them is exploitative. I think we have a lot to say about this conversation,” she said.

The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs from 20 May until 26 November this year.

Solverwp- WordPress Theme and Plugin