FNB Art Joburg
Sandton Convention
Centre, Johannesburg,
South Africa

Space of Interest

The South African Pavilion as a contemplative classroom

at the Venice Biennale

Since mid-April 2024, the Venice Biennale has welcomed a multitude of people to its 60th edition. Unfolding under the title Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere: Adriano Pedrosa’s curatorial approach to the biennale signals familiarity when it lands on the ears of those who occupy and practice from contexts that are grounding to few but uncertain for most. Featured in this month’s newsletter, FNB Art Joburg considers the response presented by the South African Pavilion, curated by Portia Malatjie, featuring MADEYOULOOK.

In 2022, for the Venice Biennale, Cecilia Alemani gave us The Milk of Dreams. While many reviews surface, one of its most salient markers was prioritising women. A radical reversal of the male-female ratio historically seen in the biennale roughly nine out of 10 artists were women or gender non-conforming. When asked why, her response was once simply, “I think it’s a reflection of the world and the society we live in now.” Perhaps the same is true for Adriano Pedrosa’s Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere. A mirror of our collective now; for the South African Pavilion, its cues feel timeous. Quiet Ground, South Africa’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, acknowledges how land is charged with subjectivity.

Referencing research from the last seven years, Quiet Ground is informed by the history of people called Bakoni. Known to have settled in Mpumalanga during or before the 1500s, theirs is a history of cyclical displacement and dispossession. Colonial and precolonial, MADEYOULOOK studies their capacity to renew, repair and reimagined the relationship they maintained with the very site complicit with their pain.

Recalling the pavilion’s curatorial foundation, Dr. Malatjie says, “I started thinking about ideas of foreignness and ideas of being and belonging, and tied that to ideas of land, especially in the context of South Africa.” With a practice concerned with land, MADEYOULOOK offered a study that Malatjie describes as more fulfilling. “It was that moment of how does one rehabilitate the land, but how does one rehabilitate one’s relationship to the land that I found compelling.”

A contemplative classroom where listening is the primary means of learning, the audience is invited to embrace the act of reception as a tool towards repair. Coming at a pivotal moment: 30 years into South Africa’s democracy, the pavilion looks to time’s invariable witnesses (land and water) to address our current socio-political climate.

Present then, now and in times ahead, Quiet Ground suggests an approach that embraces responsibility and restoration by acknowledging how the land and water were complicit in painful pasts, parallel to embracing their potential towards deliverance. Perhaps a form of research into rehabilitation: the South African Pavilion considers a resolve that reimagines roles and relationships in “political, social, ontological and spiritual” realms.

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