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First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at the Venice Biennale

First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at the Venice Biennale

By Torera Idowu, for CNN

Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT) May 12, 2017

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For the first time in history Nigeria has it's own pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice BiennaleFor the first time in history Nigeria has it's own pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Hide Caption 1 of 6'Flying Girls' is an art installation by Nigerian visual artist, Peju Alatise. It is based on the story of a 10 year old housemaid who dreams of a realm where she is free to fly. Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice Biennale'Flying Girls' is an art installation by Nigerian visual artist, Peju Alatise. It is based on the story of a 10 year old housemaid who dreams of a realm where she is free to fly. Hide Caption 2 of 6Victor Ehikhamenor's exhibition 'A Biography of the Forgotten' draws on the colonial era when mirrors were exchanged for people.  Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice BiennaleVictor Ehikhamenor's exhibition 'A Biography of the Forgotten' draws on the colonial era when mirrors were exchanged for people. Hide Caption 3 of 6"I am looking at history, the past and those that came before us,"  Ehikhamenor explains. " Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice Biennale"I am looking at history, the past and those that came before us," Ehikhamenor explains. "Hide Caption 4 of 6 Qudus Onikeku's 'Right here Right now' is a live performance and dance film trilogy infused with indigenous and contemporary dance Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice Biennale Qudus Onikeku's 'Right here Right now' is a live performance and dance film trilogy infused with indigenous and contemporary dance Hide Caption 5 of 6The artists explore the theme 'How about now?' shedding light on what it means to be Nigerian in the 21st century, Photos: First ever Nigerian Pavilion opens at Venice BiennaleThe artists explore the theme 'How about now?' shedding light on what it means to be Nigerian in the 21st century, Hide Caption 6 of 6Flying Girls_1Flying Girls_4A Biography of the Forgotten_1Nation Interrupted_1Qaddish_2Still_Life_2

(CNN)For the first time in history a Nigerian Pavilion will make its debut at the 57th Venice Biennale, also known as the Olympics of the art world. The country's pavilion will be one of 51 others from around the world.

Nigeria now joins African countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique who have all had pavilions during the exhibition's 122-year history. Why your next statement purchase will come from AfricaWhy your next statement purchase will come from Africa"The journey to Venice Biennale has been about two years in the making," explains one of the exhibit's curators, Adenrele Sonariwo."When we started the process we didn't have all the right answers but we had conviction.""As Nigerians we call ourselves the giant of Africa. We have amazing talent here and there is no reason why we shouldn't be at an event of this magnitude."Read More

Telling an authentic African story

Representing Africa's most populous nation are three contemporary home-grown artists: Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku, who are exhibiting works curated by Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma.

Technically, we are just warming up! With Qudus Onikeku and Peju Alatise trying to contain ourselves but… #howaboutnow #nigeriainvenice #bringthedancebringtheart #aintnostoppingusnow #befornkor #thenigeriansarehere #holdtight

A post shared by Victor Ehikhamenor (@victorsozaboy) on

"The Venice Biennale is like the Olympics of the Arts. It is the highest level of exhibiting an artist could be honored with," says visual artist Alatise."It is an honorable thing (to represent the country), it is exciting, it is scary."In addition to showcasing their work, Alatise says the Biennale gives the artists a chance to tell an authentic African story."It is a different narrative when you have someone who has been living outside of Africa as opposed to someone creating content within Africa with the challenges of Africa," she continues.

Inside the Nigeria Pavilion

The artists shed light on Nigerian life in the 21st century. Describing the pavilion, Sonariwo depicts a journey from the past to the future, beginning with mixed media artist Ehikhamenor.

We made it!!! Congratulations Adenrele Sonariwo @denrelesonariwo You remain my top 10!

A post shared by Peju Alatise (@peju.alatise) on

His installation — "A Biography of the Forgotten" — features hundreds of Benin bronze heads which hang overhead with mirrors placed against a large canvas, to symbolize the colonial era when mirrors were exchanged for humans. "I am looking at history, the past and those that came before us," explains Ehikhamenor. "A lot of our ancestors were mislabeled. Their works were considered primitive… I am revisiting that history to dust it and take a second look."This is followed by Qudus, a choreographer whose "Right here right now" exhibit consists of a live performance and a film presentation."My work is different because it is performance," he says. "It's about the ability to share a moment with a live participating audience who are not only receptive but also active participants.""I want to share that ability to stop time and share and inquire in all the possible realms of now."Behind the scenes at ART X Lagos contemporary art fair Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairLagos' new contemporary art fair shines a light on a new consciousness of artistic production in Nigeria.<br />Pictured here, Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai's "State of a Nation" explores a continent that has experienced more violent conflict than any other. Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Lagos' new contemporary art fair shines a light on a new consciousness of artistic production in Nigeria.
Pictured here, Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai's "State of a Nation" explores a continent that has experienced more violent conflict than any other. Hide Caption 1 of 13 Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai's work entitled "Genesis". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai's work entitled "Genesis".Hide Caption 2 of 13The three-day affair features the work of up to 60 Nigerian and African artists, as well as interactive and live art performances. Ade Adekola's "Colourfield Expressions" (pictured here) - is playing a part in changing perceptions.<br /> Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – The three-day affair features the work of up to 60 Nigerian and African artists, as well as interactive and live art performances. Ade Adekola's "Colourfield Expressions" (pictured here) – is playing a part in changing perceptions.
Hide Caption 3 of 13International visitors are expected to flood in, eager to see what Lagos has to offer. Pictured here is "Celebrations" the work of contributing artist Barthélémy Toguo from Cameroon. Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – International visitors are expected to flood in, eager to see what Lagos has to offer. Pictured here is "Celebrations" the work of contributing artist Barthélémy Toguo from Cameroon.Hide Caption 4 of 13The exhibition will pay tribute to legendary photographer Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere, who is known for his work with unique hairstyles found in Nigeria. Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – The exhibition will pay tribute to legendary photographer Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere, who is known for his work with unique hairstyles found in Nigeria.Hide Caption 5 of 13Founder Tokini Peterside aims to magnify patronage of artists across the African continent. Pictured here is contributing artist Tayo Quaye's "The Man". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Founder Tokini Peterside aims to magnify patronage of artists across the African continent. Pictured here is contributing artist Tayo Quaye's "The Man".Hide Caption 6 of 13Furthermore, Peterside hopes ART X Lagos will inspire the next generation of African artists. Pictured here is Amadou Sanogo's "Sans Tête".<br /> Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Furthermore, Peterside hopes ART X Lagos will inspire the next generation of African artists. Pictured here is Amadou Sanogo's "Sans Tête".
Hide Caption 7 of 13The project launched a competition for young artists to submit their work and win a chance to showcase their work at the next ART X Lagos. Pictured here is "The Heart" by Egyptian artist Ghada Amer. Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – The project launched a competition for young artists to submit their work and win a chance to showcase their work at the next ART X Lagos. Pictured here is "The Heart" by Egyptian artist Ghada Amer.Hide Caption 8 of 13The prize-winner will be announced at the ART X Lagos opening preview. Pictured here is contributing visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor's work entitled "Delayed Peace". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – The prize-winner will be announced at the ART X Lagos opening preview. Pictured here is contributing visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor's work entitled "Delayed Peace".Hide Caption 9 of 13Nigerian artist Uche Okpa-Iroha inserts himself into scenes from Francis Ford Coppola's infamous film The Godfather in a series titled "The Plantation Boy". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Nigerian artist Uche Okpa-Iroha inserts himself into scenes from Francis Ford Coppola's infamous film The Godfather in a series titled "The Plantation Boy".Hide Caption 10 of 13One of the exciting features at ART X Lagos is a gigantic coloring wall designed by Karo Akpokiere. Pictured here is another piece of his entitled "Sweet Jesus". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – One of the exciting features at ART X Lagos is a gigantic coloring wall designed by Karo Akpokiere. Pictured here is another piece of his entitled "Sweet Jesus".Hide Caption 11 of 13Ade Adekola's  series "Flags and Conflicts" explores the intricate relationships of nations at war or in conflict and the cost in human lives lost. Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – Ade Adekola's series "Flags and Conflicts" explores the intricate relationships of nations at war or in conflict and the cost in human lives lost.Hide Caption 12 of 13The art fair offers a vital platform for growth and increased visibility, to both artists and galleries. Pictured here is contributing artist Sokari Douglas Camp's work entitled "Primavera". Photos: Behind the scenes at Lagos art fairART X Lagos – The art fair offers a vital platform for growth and increased visibility, to both artists and galleries. Pictured here is contributing artist Sokari Douglas Camp's work entitled "Primavera". Hide Caption 13 of 13Kudzanai Chiurai girlKudzanai Chiurai's GenesisAde Adekola's Colourfield Expressionsbarthelemy toguo - CelebrationsJ.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, HD1349-06, 2006. Courtesy foto ojeikereTayo Quaye - The Man, 1995 Amadou Sanogo - Sans Tete - 2016The Heart by Ghada Amer  Painted stainless steel  2012Victor Ehikhamenor's Delayed PeaceBeing A Corleone DateKaro Akpokiere's SWEET JESUS - croppedAde Adekola's Flags and Conflict (Belligerents and Insurgents)Sokari Douglas Camp (Nigeria), Primavera, 2015. Steel, gold leaf and acrylic paint croppedAlatise's "Flying Girls" installation represents the future. The eight life-sized sculptures of girls with wings and birds in mid-flight represent the black girl child. "I thought I would give a voice to the most vulnerable, which is the young black girl — especially in Nigeria," she says. "It's not necessarily focusing on that label, but the vulnerability of the girl child and the fact we do not have the government, cultural knowledge and aspiration to do something to help the girl child."

'The future can only get better'

Nigerian-born curator and art critic Okwi Enwezor was the first African to curate the Venice Biennale in 2015, and with the inclusion of a Nigerian pavilion the future of the country's contemporary art scene looks bright.Why 'outstanding' and  'affordable' African art is so hot right nowWhy 'outstanding' and 'affordable' African art is so hot right now"The future can only get better because we have bigger and better platforms now," says Ehikhamenor. "The things that actually build the art industry are getting better and bigger. Museums are springing up. You have a lot of curators that are coming from the continent. You have art fairs, symposiums and Biennales based in the continent." "In five years I can definitely say voices get louder and people are heard more clearly," adds Alatise. "Thank goodness for technology. Technology gives us that avenue. It's a tool that if the African artist can use effectively, they will reach every part of the world."

The Nigerian Pavilion opens to the public on May 13, 2017 and closes on November 26, 2017

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