Zimbabwe sets up the first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale

updated on April 7, 2012

The Venice Biennale is more international than ever this year, with first-time participants including Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Haiti and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe and fellow first-time participant Democratic Republic of Congo represent the only sub-Saharan African countries to be featured at the Biennale. Curator Raphael Chikukwa of the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe has selected a roster of artists that includes Tapfuma Gutsa, a sculptor, Misheck Masamvu, a painter, Berry Bickle, a mixed-media artist, and Calvin Dondo, a photographer. The exhibition commissioner is Doreen Sibanda and the show is titled “Seeing Ourselves: Questioning our Geography, Landscape, and Space We Occupy from Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

Zimbabwe crates arriving from the airport

Raphael Chikukwa explains the significance of this event:

Until now, the individual countries of Sub-Saharan Africa have been underrepresented at the Venice Biennale, with South Africa being the only country from the region to have ever had an individual stand. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, working with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and the British Council, and supported by the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, the Monaco Development Corporation and Zimbabwe Embassy in Rome, present an exhibition at the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, (Castello 3701 Calle della Pieta 30122 Venice). With Zimbabwe included as an official participant in the Venice Biennale, the exhibition will give a long overdue focus on the creativity of Africa’s sovereign nations.

Entrance to the Zimbabwe Pavilion

The Biennale opened on 1 June and runs until the end of November.

In early April 2012, our founder Andy Kozlov met Misheck Masamvu, one of the first Zimbabwean artists to officially attend the Biennale, in what he describes an ‘original place’ – 11 km over DRC on a Munich-bound plane. Andy recalls:

In our conversation during which our plane almost reached Niger,
Misheck confirmed SinS’ observation that there is a dire need for
expertised artist guilds in Zimbabwe as well as internationally savvy
agents. In fact, his agent managed to get Misheck booked till the end
of year. He is to hold 4 exhibits in Germany till end May and goes to
Dubai soon thereafter.

My new friend also thinks that something should be done to get Zimbo
artists in the diaspora come and reconnect with the motherland. Many
of the diasporans are uneasy coming back since they fear potential
misunderstanding with their peers resident in Zimbabwe. But there have been
several successful examples.

Misheck says that there are not many artists from Zimbabwe that get as much international exposure as he

This artist has a significant roster of prizes and has participated in exhibitions in Germany, France, South Africa, Senegal, Netherlands, Italy, Zimbabwe, and the United Kingdom. Masamvu exhibited at the Dakar Biennale in 2006.


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