Indigenous Artists Are the Heart of the Venice Biennale

Before visitors step into any gallery at the 2024 Venice Biennale, which opens April 20, Indigenous artists will have made their presence known.

A collective of painters from the Brazilian Amazon, MAHKU (Movimento dos Artistas Huni Kuin), will cover the facade of the central exhibition hall with an intricate mural. Inuuteq Storch, the first Greenlandic and Inuk artist to represent Denmark at the international art festival, will erect a sign reading “Kalaallit Nunaat,” or “Greenland” above the pavilion’s entrance. (Greenland has been a self-governing country within the Danish Realm since 1979. )

The Brazil Pavilion nearby has been renamed the Hãhãwpuá Pavilion — one of many terms that Indigenous people use to describe the territory that, after colonization, became Brazil. “There is a very political aspect to the Indigenous presence in an artistic space like the Venice Biennale,” said Denilson Baniwa, the Hãhãwpuá Pavilion’s co-curator. “Our aim is to rewrite history and add a new chapter to art history.”

Beyond the United States Pavilion, which features the art of Jeffrey Gibson, the Venice Biennale offers a taste of the wide range of work produced by Indigenous, First Nations and Native artists around the globe. Here are some highlights.

The Central Exhibition

Mataaho Collective’s “Takapau” (2022), made of polyester tie-downs and stainless steel buckles. The first gallery at the Arsenale will host the monumental installation by a group of four Maori women known for making large fiber sculptures. Credit…Maarten Holl, via Te Papa

Indigenous artists are at the heart of “Foreigners Everywhere,” the Venice Biennale’s central exhibition. As the Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director of this year’s Biennale, sees it, the Indigenous artist is “frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land.” The first gallery at the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard complex, will host a monumental installation by the Mataaho Collective, a group of four Maori women known for making large-scale fiber sculptures. The 331-artist lineup also includes the Native American artists Kay WalkingStick and Emmi Whitehorse; the Brazilian Yanomani artists Joseca Mokahesi and André Taniki; Indigenous Australian artists Marlene Gilson and Naminapu Maymuru-White; and Maori artists Sandy Adsett and Selwyn Wilson, considered one of the founders of Maori Modernism, who died in 2002.

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