African feminism pumps the heart of Benin’s debut at Venice Biennale

For the first time since its inception in 1895, the Venice Biennale contemporary art fair has invited the West African nation of Benin to host a pavilion. Curator Azu Nwagbogu and his team of four artists have created a warm, homely space where visitors are encouraged to slow down, reconnect with what unites humanity and explore the roots of African feminism.

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Nwagbogu is one of the art world’s most sought-after curators. He was asked personally by the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, to head up the team dedicated to making the national pavilion come to life.

“I really hope there will be a reflection around Benin’s history and feminism … something that we can all relate to and brings us back to the thing that makes us all feel human,” Nwagbogu told RFI ahead of the opening of the Venice Biennale which runs from 20 April until 24 November.

According to Nwagbogu, the momentum of getting Benin into the international spotlight began with a political turn of events in 2021: the identification and final restitution of 26 precious traditional objects to Benin from Paris’s Quai Branly Museum.

Nwagbogu was present at the historic exhibition that took place in 2022 at the presidential palace in Cotonou. People of all walks of life came and queued up to see the artefacts, he says, underlining the symbolic importance of this event.

Hope on the horizon

“The remarkable thing was that it was curated to present the work of contemporary artists in the same space.

“I believe that exhibition really created a general sense of purpose, hope and positive anticipation for what was to come next.”

Read more on RFI English

Read also:
France approves return of African treasures looted during colonial period
Teenage performers from Benin use girl power to take on the world
Epic starring Benin's Agojie women warriors packs a punch in Hollywood