The Republic of Benin Is Getting Its First-Ever National Pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale

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The Republic of Benin announced its first-ever national pavilion at the 2024 edition of the Venice Biennale, which will be held from 20 April–24 November 2024. The announcement makes Benin the latest addition to the global art event which has been running since 1895.

Azu Nwagbogu, a curator and founder of the Nigeria-based non-profit African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), will organize the country’s inaugural pavilion. He was tapped by a joint selection committee that included Benin’s president Patrice Talon, the nation’s tourism minister Jean Michel Abimbola, and museum administrators from the National Gallery of Benin. Azu will be assisted by Yassine Lassissi, artistic director of La Galerie Nationale du Bénin, and architect Franck Houndégla. Playwright José Pliya, the general director of La Galerie Nationale, will commission the pavilion.

In a statement, the president of the Republic of Benin, Patrice Talon said that Nwagbogu’s “unique background, vision, and expertise in the field of art curation makes him the perfect candidate to showcase Bénin’s cultural heritage and contemporary art to the world.”

The curator, for his part, said he felt “exceedingly honored” to be the committee’s choice. “I look forward to working on this exciting project,” he added.

The curator also helped found the LagosPhoto photography festival in 2010 and served as the interim director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in South Africa from April 2018 to August 2019.

Benin’s announcement situated its upcoming turn at Venice within Talon’s broader cultural policy agenda, which centers around efforts to restitute the many relics stolen from the Kingdom of Benin by British soldiers in an infamous 1897 raid. Azu’s plan for the Biennale has yet to be announced, but Benin’s news release said his “vision for the project is 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.”

With this week’s news, Benin joins the growing list of African countries participating which has now increased to twelve from seven in 2017; Cameroon and Namibia made their respective debuts at the 59th Venice Biennale last year, while Ghana and Madagascar first participated in 2019.

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