“For almost the first time in my life, words fail me.” Ghanaian-Scottish architect and novelist Lesley Lokko took the opportunity of a morning press conference to discuss an unfortunate incident overshadowing the opening of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Three men from Ghana, collaborators of Lokko, curator of this year’s exhibition, were denied entry into Italy. According to Lokko, authorities suspected these men would stay in Italy after the expiration of their visas, but no explanation was offered.
In a news report published in the lead-up to the opening, Daniela D'Orlandi, the Italian ambassador to Ghana, told Building Design that the three men, who had been working closely with Lokko for nearly two years as part of a larger team of six Accra-based collaborators, failed to meet the requirements permitting entry to the European Union’s Schengen Area. Lokko elaborated in a statement widely shared on Twitter that “the Biennale have done everything they possibly can to assist, but to no avail,” adding that Biennale president Roberto Cicutto and general manager Andrea del Mercato have been “magnificent and tireless” but, in the end, were unable to “sway an ambitious career diplomat looking to make her mark with a right-wing government.”
Lokko and Roberto Cicutto, president of La Biennale di Venezia, pictured at the opening press conference Photo by Jacopo Salvi, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia
“For the moment, this is a headline story, but it is an old and familiar tale,” said Lokko at the conference, who earlier discussed how the incident “highlights the absurdity and hypocrisy [of] a show about Africa to which Africans have been denied access, despite contributing our labor. Some things, it seems, never change."
Inside the Arsenale at the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale (1); led by Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal, Palestine-based Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR)’s contribution to the Biennale "explores the possibilities of critical reappropriation, reuse, and subversion of fascist colonial architecture and its modernist legacy" (2). Photos © Architectural Record
Rather than dwell on the incident concerning her team members, she wished to use the platform of the exhibition—entitled The Laboratory of the Future and organized around two framing principles: decolonization and decarbonization—to address questions that have been raised around the occurrence.
At the Arsenale, a multimedia work by Grandeza Studio explores Australia's Pilbara, "an immense, arid, and thinly populated territorial crust where the 'discovery' of mineral deposits has turned the region into a "spatiotemporal battlefield of expulsions, explosions, and exploitation, papered over by the colonial ‘development’ myth" (3); inside Moving Ecologies at the Chile Pavilion at the Arsenale (4). Photos © Architectural Record
The Venice Biennale, held at the Giardini and the Arsenale as well as at several smaller satellite venues, opens to the public on Saturday, May 20, and runs to November 26.
For more on the Biennale, can read RECORD’s comprehensive overview of the 2023 exhibition, as well as a preview of Everlasting Plastics at the U.S. Pavilion. Further dispatches from Venice will be published in the coming days.