LifestyleNigerian pavilion to explore identity and LGBTQ politics at Venice

Nigerian pavilion to explore identity and LGBTQ politics at Venice

As the Venice Biennale prepares to open its doors this April, the Nigerian Pavilion, titled “Nigeria Imaginary, is set to be a focal point for its exploration of national identity, diasporic experiences, and the powerful intersections with LGBTQ politics. Curated by Aindrea Emelife, the exhibition will feature a diverse group of artists, including Toyin Ojih Odutola and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, whose works boldly traverse the realms of personal history and socio-political commentary.

The Nigerian community in the DMV area, particularly its vibrant LGBTQ members, finds a resonance with the themes at Venice. Ojih Odutola’s work, often centered on Black identities and queer narratives, challenges both Nigerian and global audiences to rethink traditional boundaries and embrace inclusivity. 

“LGBTQIA hate is global,” Ojih Odutola noted, pointing out the unfortunate reality of intolerance both in the United States and Nigeria. Her work in the pavilion, titled “Ile Oriyaku,” is a homage to her grandmother and is designed to be a sanctuary that celebrates the right to personal change and freedom of expression.

Ojih Odutola emphasized the significance of representation in her art, especially regarding LGBTQ figures. 

The artwork is “Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul, 2023” by Yinka Shonibare, a dynamic terracotta sculpture that intricately weaves figures and architectural forms into a city-like structure, exhibited against the raw textures of a rustic space.(Courtesy of the Museum of West African Art)
“People are free to express themselves and free to roam,” she explained. This ethos is manifest in her portrayal of characters and narratives that affirm the dignity and complexity of queer identities, pushing against societal norms and expectations.

Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, another highlight of the exhibition, presents a major sculptural installation that draws on the historic artworks created in the Kingdom of Benin. His work, deeply embedded with themes of colonialism and post-colonialism, critically examines cultural identity through the lens of historical artifacts looted during the Benin Expedition of 1897. Shonibare’s installation challenges viewers to consider the impacts of colonial histories on contemporary identities and encourages a dialogue about restitution and cultural reconciliation.

The pavilion’s commitment to addressing complex issues such as LGBTQ rights and inclusivity in a country known for its conservative stance on these matters is groundbreaking. 

Ojih Odutola remarked on the challenge of presenting such themes: “The political aspect that you’re asking me about, it’s very difficult to control flexible spirits,” highlighting the dynamic and often contentious relationship between traditional Nigerian values and progressive ideals.

“Monument to the Restitution of the Mind and Soul, 2023” by Yinka Shonibare is an evocative terracotta sculpture displayed here. This detailed piece features an array of cultural and historical elements, constructing a narrative that climbs upwards in a layered, city-like formation, all captured under the warm glow of exhibition lighting.(Courtesy of the Museum of West African Art)
Back in the DMV, the Nigerian Pavilion at Venice serves as a beacon of hope and a source of pride, particularly among young Nigerian-Americans who see their struggles and dreams reflected in the artworks. The exhibition not only offers a glimpse into the possible futures of Nigeria but also acts as a mirror reflecting the experiences of the Nigerian diaspora worldwide.

As the Venice Biennale approaches, the excitement within the Nigerian community in the DMV is tremendous. They watch closely as “Nigeria Imaginary” prepares to make a bold statement on the global stage, advocating for change, celebrating diversity, and challenging viewers to reimagine what it means to be Nigerian in today’s world.

For more information on the Nigerian Pavilion and its featured artists, visit, the Venice Biennale’s official website, or the Museum of West African Art’s digital platforms.

Source: Washington Informer

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