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Travel, art and feminism at La Biennale Venezia 2022

Early morning view of St Mark's Square, Venice

This month we visited Venice for the 59th International Art Exhibition, taking in the Arsenale and Giardini as well as hunting out the many participating exhibitions across the city.

Published date: 31 October 2022

Here’s a roundup of our favourite parts and an account of an interesting turn of events that involved trying to get home during an Italian air traffic control strike!

This year’s event is curated by Cecilia Alemani and is called The Milk of Dreams, taking its title from a book by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) in which the surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination.

The Central Pavillion included a majority of female artists and gender non-conforming artists, for the first time in its 127-year history. We particularly enjoyed the historical sections, time capsules, museum loans and unconventional selections featuring the work of artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. Female power, female forms, connection, and marginalised communities were common themes throughout.

Stumbling across venues is perhaps our favourite part of the Venice Biennale, as you often get to explore parts of the city and buildings that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to visit. We particularly enjoyed A Storm is Blowing From Paradise a solo exhibition by Oscar Murillo in the historic setting of Scuola Grande della Misericordia, a majestic building that almost outshone the artwork itself.

So too were the Stanley Whitney Paintings at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, faded gem of a building, where the paintings jumped out from the turquoise and raspberry décor. Meanwhile, over in the Arsenale we enjoyed Noah Davis, Emma Talbot and the Ireland Pavillion.

On our last day before our homeward drama, we made a particular effort to visit the Uganda Pavillion, and it was well worth the effort. Rich, colourful paintings by Collin Sekajugo were complemented by the woven craftwork from Acaye Kerunen, a socially engaged artist showcasing the work of local and regional Ugandan craftswomen. Again, the building played its part, with the beautiful terrazzo flooring providing a perfect backdrop and compliment to the artworks.

An Italian Air Traffic Control Strike scuppered our three flights home, causing us to sleep at Venice airport overnight. During the fiasco we chatted to fellow passengers on our flight and met an older couple in the airport – Jo and Joel. Jo, who was in her 80’s stood out from the crowd with pink hair and sequinned jacket and like us had slept in the airport, with Jo announcing that she had had a great night’s sleep. Joel was keen to get home to see Bob Dylan at the London Palladium and we instantly found a connection with them both, talking about their visit to the Biennale and our response to the artworks. We discussed Paula Rego, Josephine Baker and Simone Leigh, particular favourites of Jo.

As we chatted, we discovered that Jo was featured in the film Misbehaviour released two weeks before Covid struck, The film Misbehaviour focuses on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the protesters during the 1970* Miss World competition. Jo was one of the protestors and is also featured this documentary film on YouTube Beauty Queens and Bedlam.

Having had time to digest the artwork and reflect on our delayed journey home, it struck us how La Biennale both picked up on the representation of women, equality and being allowed to express yourself, whatever your gender, background and social standing.

*The 1970 Miss World competition took place in London, hosted by the American comedian Bob Hope. At that time Miss World was the most-watched TV show in the world with over 100 million viewers. Arguing that beauty competitions objectify women, the newly formed women’s liberation movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. When the show resumed, the result caused uproar: the winner was not the Swedish favourite but Miss Grenada, the second (after Carole Crawford of Jamaica) black woman to be crowned Miss World.

If you are interested to see more of our trip to Venice, please do click here to take a look at our Instagram highlights which include a run around St Mark’s Square amongst all the artworks.

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