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Venice Biennale, Russia and Ukraine: The big, the bad and the innocent

ByKeisha Frimpong

Mar 25, 2022
Venice Biennale

“There is no place for art when civilians are dying under the fire of missiles when citizens of Ukraine are hiding in shelters when Russian protesters are getting silenced.”

Alexandra Sukhareva and Kirill Savchenkov  

Venice Biennale
Giardini della Biennale

Wealthy art collectors, hungry art dealers and eager auction houses looking for the next Phyllida Barlow will all gather at the Venice Biennale in April this year. Every year countries designate an artist to represent their nation at the festival, however this year Ukraine and Russia will not participate. Earlier this week it was announced that the Russian Pavilion will not be displayed at the Venice Biennale in April this year. Curator Raimundas Malasuaskas took to Instagram to announce his resignation from the Biennale in solidarity with Ukraine. Malasuaskas stated that living through the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1989 has made Russia’s war with Ukraine even more politically and emotionally unbearable. This follows Ukraine’s delegates’ choice to withdraw from the Biennale. 

“We express the hope that international diplomacy will find the strength to pursue a shared peaceful solution in the shortest time possible.” – Venice Biennale 

There is a war, people are fleeing their home countries, dying for their country all because of Putin’s egotistical need for power. Yet, one of the biggest events in the art world is still going on. The Venice Biennale tells global art collectors, museums, and galleries which artists matter and what art matters. With the Russian and Ukrainian Pavilion being withdrawn by their own artists, rather than the directors of the Biennale themselves, the art festival is not fulfilling their core function, they are not reflecting the art world today. Russia and Ukraine are at war, their people are suffering. Whilst the Venice Biennale put out a statement in support of Ukraine, their decision to still hold the event could be seen as highly insensitive. High profile art events such as these determine what art is and which artists should be respected, but how can this be done effectively when we are missing representatives? 

This year the Venice Biennale is not presenting the art world as a whole, by continuing with the event without the Ukrainian and Russian pavilions it is neglecting the war that is clearly happening. I am not suggesting that Ukraine and Russia return to the Biennale, no. There should be a reflection of this situation at the Biennale, why is no one showing their support for Ukraine and acknowledgement of the war through art? Better yet, why isn’t there a demonstration of solidarity? Pope. L crawled across the streets of New York to highlight homelessness, poverty and discrimination amongst the African-American community. Where are our political artists when we need them?  

This matters because the Venice Biennale to the art world is what the UK government is to the UK public. By putting out a short statement claiming support for Ukraine, the Biennale are proving themselves to be bystanders in a war about democracy. Art and the state go hand in hand, both are built upon capitalism, and both need public support to survive. 

However, just like the state, art institutions care more about financial gain than they do public opinion. In my eyes, the Venice Biennale are just happy to have their show back after being paused by the pandemic. So instead of stopping the event, they have continued to host the Biennale in April. Whilst the Biennale has not reflected the art world as a whole in the past due to their lack of diversity amongst artists. This year will also fail to reflect today’s society not because Russia and Ukraine are not exhibiting their pavilions, but due to the art festivals’ incompetence to use art as a visual reminder of wartime.

Image Courtesy of Moonik via WikiCommons