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Over 120 years of history returned to Italy yesterday as the Venice Biennale 2019 flagged off. The art edition will go on for close to seven months, concluding in late November. Back in 1895, it was the first ever international art exhibition, and over the years has become the most sought-after ones, attracting about 5,00,000 visitors. For the first time in its history, the biennale has been put together by a UK-based curator, Ralph Rugoff, director of Hayward Gallery in London. The theme this year is the make-believe Chinese curse, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’, through which the exhibition seeks to bring out the complexity of human nature and actions.

Venice Biennale 2019
Ralph Rugoff at the press conference at Ca’ Giustinian on March 07. Courtesy: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

The 58th International Art Exhibition is exploring a deeper tangent to the term ‘interesting times’, where false news can cause real aftereffects, and fear and conformity lead to oversimplification in life. Ninety countries have come together to participate, 79 artists have been invited to present their work, and 21 collateral events are being held. There are two venues — Giardini, the traditional venue since its inception – and Arsenale, the largest production centre in the city.


India returns to the exhibition this year – the Indian pavilion is themed ‘Our Time for a Future Caring’. Celebrating the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, the artworks displayed interpret Gandhi’s philosophies that continue to resonate with people even today. Some works are direct representations of history, and some developed on hypothetical notions that challenge the current definitions of agency, action, and freedom.

The exhibit comes together to convey that his ideals of non-violence are increasingly important in today’s intolerant world. The works have been commissioned by Adwaita Gadanayak of the National Gallery of Modern Art; curated by Roobina Karode of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art; and showcase artists Atul Dodiya, Ashim Purkayastha, GR Iranna, Jitish Kallat, Nandalal Bose, Rummana Hussain, and Shakuntala Kulkarni.

Venice Biennale 2019
The exhibition ‘AFRICOBRA: Nation Time’ of Jeff Donaldson, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Nelson Stevens and Gerald Williams at Ca’ Faccanon during the press preview

Other than India, lookout for African art, which is making waves this year, with countries such as Seychelles, Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, and Algeria each having their own pavilion. Sculptures by the Irish Eva Rothschild, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and ‘Walls Unwalled’, a video on forensic evidence by Turner-prize nominated Lawrence Abu Hamdan, are few of the other installations you can pencil-in into your must-see list.

A blood-sweeping machine — ‘Can’t help myself’ — by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu is an example of today’s times, as is the Barca Nostra (Our Boat) with a dark history — a 1,000 people died aboard this ship when trying to escape from Libya to Europe in 2015. Throwing light on the current state of affairs in a way only art can, the Venice Biennale 2019 exhibition strives to be an eye-opener.

The Venice Biennale is on from May 11 – November 24. Tickets range from EUR 16 to 48 and can be bought here.

All images: Courtesy: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Megha Uppal
Associate Editor
An innate love for travel and food has translated into many a trips since childhood for Megha; it also fed her curiosity to know about local cultures. When not writing, she is on the lookout for three things: A great dark chocolate dessert, a beautiful pool where she can practice her backstroke, and art that she can save up for.