In September 2017 Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin (4th year Intermedia) visited the Venice Biennale as part of a group involved in the West Midlands art scene. In this article Rohanie reflects on her experience and explains how it has and will influence her studies at ECA.

This September, I was selected to attend the 57th Venice Biennale, alongside others involved in the arts scene of the West Midlands. Being the only accepted applicant still undertaking undergraduate studies invoked simultaneous pride and immense imposter syndrome. My main draw to the Biennale this year was the inclusion of the first ever Diaspora Pavilion, conceptualised and curated by Midlands based David A. Bailey.

The Biennale has come under scrutiny recently for its arguably outdated structure regarding nationality and nationalism. The Diaspora Pavilion entirely questions the organisation of artwork into countries of origin, instead celebrating and discussing the constant merging and shifting definitions of nationality, thus giving a platform to the people whose identity does not fit concisely into one category (which as someone who is mixed, I took to be an incredibly exciting thing).

Work by Susan Pui San Lok at the 57th Venice Biennale
Image: Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin
Work by Susan Pui San Lok at the 57th Venice Biennale
Work by Sampson Young at the Hong Kong pavilion
Image: Craig Ashley
Work by Sampson Young at the Hong Kong pavilion

Walking into the gallery, we were met by a wall of gold tinsel – the work ‘Untitled (Pavilion)’ (2017) by Susan Pui San Lok – which immediately evoked the fear of whether an interactive-appearing artwork is actually interactive, and whether the viewer is entitled to interact with it. Pensively, we watched other people wade through until the leap was finally made into the work, leaving us disoriented and in awe of its beauty. What stuck out was the incredibly unpretentious nature of the piece; it simply did not take itself too seriously.

Barbara Walker’s drawing installation, ‘Transcended’ (2017), was another memorable work. It depicted forgotten West Indian soldiers from the Commonwealth who fought in the WWI. I first saw Walker’s work at mac Birmingham, wherein a large part of the exhibition was her systematic removal of the drawings; by the end of the show all that was left were smudged clouds of charcoal.

A sense of optimism was brought about when I saw an old Venetian house filled with the bright, clashing fabrics of Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s installation ‘The British Library’ – an ode to immigrants to the UK and the contributions they have made.

The diverse spectrum of work seen throughout my few days in Venice was highly insightful. The experience was highly useful for my studio based work, primarily in relation to my dissertation which is looking at the representation of Artists of the Caribbean Diaspora in the Western Art World. Being able to view the work in person that I am discussing in submissions and research is an unparalleled experience. As an aspiring curator, the insight gained into practical aspects of art exhibitions equally valuable.


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