Alatise shows Alasiri in Venice

May 30, 2021

Artist Peju Alatise is among the select African artists and architects participating in the ongoing 17th International Architecture Exhibition.

FOUR years after she represented Nigeria alongside Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku at the Venice Arte Biennale, female contemporary artist Peju Alatise is back in Italy.

This time, the Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomoso trained architect and artist is participating at the Venice Biennale Architettura organised by La Biennale di Venezia.

With ‘How will we live together?’ as its theme, the exhibition was inaugurated last Saturday, May 22. It is ongoing till November 21, 2021 at Giardini, the Arsenale, and Forte Marghera, all in Venice.

112 participants, including architects, scholars and artists from 46 countries, are participating in the exhibition that should have happened in March 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alatise features in the ‘Among Diverse Beings’ category at the prestigious global exhibition curated by Hashim Sarkis, Dean, School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Alasiri’, her site-specific submission at Venice Biennale, is a sculptural installation of doors and figures that allows for mutual understanding or otherwise to take place. She described it as a ‘secret keeper that allows you to experience being an outsider and insider simultaneously.”

The exhibition’s theme, the 46-year-old Alatise explained, “is a poignant question made more complex by the current Covid-19 crises that the whole world is experiencing at the moment. The answer begs for moral inclusion that I feel architecture alone cannot give. The Yoruba from West Africa say ‘Yara rebete gba ogun omokunrin ti won ba fe‘ra de‘nu’,  which means a small room can contain 20 young men if they have a deeper understanding of one another.”

The 2017 winner of the FNB Art Prize, added “They also say ‘eniyan ribi ilekun, ti o ba gba e laye ati wole, o ti di alasiri’ meaning people are like doors. If they permit you entry, you become their keeper of secrets…This time last year, there were voices of populist ideas of people who want to break up countries with nationalist views. Now, the Covid-19 has given us a taste of what it will feel like to live alone.”

Commenting on the exhibition theme, curator, Sarkis explained that, “The current global pandemic has no doubt made the question that this Biennale Architettura is asking all the more relevant and timely, even if somehow ironic, given the imposed isolation. It may indeed be a coincidence that the theme was proposed a few months before the pandemic. However, many of the reasons that initially led us to ask this question – the intensifying climate crisis, massive population displacements, political instabilities around the world, and growing racial, social, and economic inequalities, among others – have led us to this pandemic and have become all the more relevant.

“We can no longer wait for politicians to propose a path towards a better future. As politics continue to divide and isolate, we can offer alternative ways of living together through architecture. The Biennale Architettura 2021 is motivated by new kinds of problems that the world is putting in front of architecture. It is also inspired by the emerging activism of young architects and the radical revisions being proposed by the profession of architecture to take on these challenges.”

The President of Venice Architecture Biennale, Kazuyo Sejima, in his opening remarks at the inauguration last Saturday, commended the spirit of collaboration among the participants.

“Everything that has happened and will happen in the next few days is as a result of the collaboration of Biennale local and national authorities that have made it possible for the biennial staff and visitors to arrive here in complete safety and security.

“The collaboration between the curators and architects who have been here since the beginning of the year who have let us understand that it was possible to have installations here, move them to Venice and created them here on this spot, thus making it possible to have this inauguration of the 17th Venice Biennale Architectural exhibition,” he said.

Apart from Alatise, other African artists-individuals and collectives- participating in the exhibition include atelier masōmī – Mariam Kamara (Niger), Cave_bureau – (Kenya), Olalekan Jeyifous (USA) and Mpho Matsipa (South Africa and USA), Paula Nascimento (Angola) and K63.STUDIO – Osborne Macharia (Kenya & Canada).


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