Community the key as Kenya gets its Venice pavilion

Sunday May 14 2017

By Frank Whalley

Kenya has its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale, after all.

It opened on May 12, in a recently renovated school on the island of Giudecca, thanks to private sponsors who filled the gap left by the failure of the government to stump up its promised $1 million funding.

Leading the list of donors is Zuecca Projects, a Venetian cultural organisation that seeks “to merge cultural boundaries through exchange and educational practice.”

Called Another Country, after the novel by James Baldwin, the exhibition features six Kenyan artists: Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi. Mwangi Hutter (two artists who show as one), Paul Onditi, and Arlene Wandera.

As well as a traditional show of drawings, paintings and sculpture, the pavilion will spearhead interaction between artists, students and the wider community.

The commissioner for the pavilion, Dr Kiprop Lagat, the government’s Director of Culture, commented: “This remains the official pavilion for Kenya and something that Kenya supports.”

He added that the government had financed a reconnaissance trip to Venice in October last year and had also paid allowances to members of the pavilion team, including the curator.

Proposals to set up a secretariat to plan and organise future pavilions for Kenya have been put on hold, pending financial support, but Dr Lagat said the idea was important and he hoped it would eventually be realised.

One of the private sponsors, Carol Lees, commented: “We were delighted to help the team achieve their ambition to have a pavilion that truly speaks for Kenya.”

Director of the One-Off Gallery at Rosslyn, Nairobi, Lees added: “Hopefully this will be only the first step of many and the government will rally round in future and offer full support when they see what an excellent job Kenyan artists are doing for their country.”