"Circa" (2018), Anna Bella Geiger (Foto: Mendes Wood DM / Divulgação)
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Way Beyond Venice: Other Biennials that Take Place Around the World

Giovana Christ
25 Nov 2019, 3:29 pm

A biennial, in the literal sense of the word, is any event that takes place with an interval of two years between each edition. But of course, we will not be talking about any kind of event. Biennial, for most people who have contact with visual arts, are historical events that, in general, aim to reflect what is happening in the world of contemporary art.

It all started in Venice in 1895, when the first edition took over the Italian city. The show, which today is considered the most important in the world, was created to provide a space for confluence, comparison and debates about the art of the present, produced around the world. It is common to see the metaphor that the Venice Biennale reached the world as the “Olympic Games of the Arts”. Nowadays, the Biennials assume a political role and are present in different countries around the world.

Here, we will not talk about the traditional exhibitions of Venice and São Paulo. Take this opportunity to learn more about other Biennials that take place around the world.

Above: "Circa" (2018), Anna Bella Geiger (Photo: Mendes Wood DM / Publicity)

"How Old Is Suffering?" (2018), Jota Mombaça (Foto: Bienal de Sydney / Divulgação)
Sem título (2012), Paulo Nazareth. Do Projeto "Objetos para andar no deserto" (Foto: Mendes Wood DM / Divulgação)

"How Old Is Suffering?" (2018), Jota Mombaça (Photo: Sydney Biennial / Publicity)

Untitled (2012), Paulo Nazareth. From the Project "Objetos para andar no deserto" [Objects to Walk in the Desert] (Photo: Mendes Wood DM / Publicity)

Biennale of Sydney (Australia)

Its first edition was in celebration of the opening of the Sydney Opera House, a building famous worldwide for its curved shell-shaped architecture. Since 1973, the event has had 21 editions and presented the work of more than 1800 artists from one hundred countries in the world, being the first exhibition of its kind to be established in the Asia-Pacific region.

Its 22nd edition, “NIRIN”, will take place from March 14 to June 8, 2020, in six locations in Sydney. The Biennial will aim to expose issues of contemporary life that cause anxiety and panic in people, showing how art has the power to solve these problems and imagine better futures. The curator in charge, Brook Andrew, is an Australian artist who constantly deals with the relationship between colonialism and modern history.

Two Brazilians will participate in the 2020 Biennial: Jota Mombaça, a non-binary trans artist who writes, performs and carries out academic studies on various social debates; and Paulo Nazareth (Mendes Wood DM), artist who produces performances and installations that seek roots in his African and indigenous origins and have toured the world in several biennials.

"Gigantesco parentesco (passeio solitário)" (2019), Laura Lima (Foto: Bienal de Sharjah / Divulgação)

"Gigantesco parentesco (passeio solitário)" (2019), Laura Lima (Photo: Sharjah Biennial / Publicity)

"A cobra grande em rios livres” (2019), Aline Baiana (Foto: Bienal de Sharjah / Divulgação)

"A cobra grande em rios livres” (2019), Aline Baiana (Photo: Sharjah Biennale / Publicity)

Sharjah Biennial (United Arab Emirates)

Organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation, the Biennial has existed since 1993 and seeks to cover artistic manifestations such as installations, performances and films from around the world.

The 14th Sharjah Biennial dealt with the “echo chamber”, a nickname for the media circuits and news feeds that are controlled by private initiatives and result in public manipulation. “Leaving the Echo Chamber”, the theme of the event, does not propose a way out of this restricted circuit of information, but ways of using it in favor of its viewers.

The 2019 show was curated by Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons, and divided into three exhibitions, one per curator. Tancons‘ includes two Brazilian artists: Aline Baiana and Laura Lima (Luisa Strina and A Gentil Carioca). Both took unprecedented installations to the Biennial, Baiana drawing a parallel between the construction of dams in Brazil and Lebanon, and Lima inspired by the clothing of Muslim women.

The next Biennial, in 2021, will feature a project initially conceived by the Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, one of the most important thinkers of decolonial art who died in 2019.

“Empossamento” (2003), Mauro Restiffe (Foto: Bienal de Gwangju / Divulgação)
Estudo de caso do Palácio da Alvorada (2018), Lais Myrrha (Foto: Bienal de Gwangju / Divulgação)

“Empossamento” [Inauguration] (2003), Mauro Restiffe (Photo: Gwangju Biennale / Publicity)

Case study of Palácio da Alvorada (2018), Lais Myrrha (Photo: Gwangju Biennale / Publicity)

“Brasília by Foot” (2009), Clarissa Tossin (Foto: Bienal de Gwangju / Divulgação)

“Brasília by Foot” (2009), Clarissa Tossin (Photo: Gwangju Biennale / Publicity)

Gwangju Biennale (South Korea)

Preparing for its 13th edition in 2020, the exhibition was born in 1995 already with a Brazilian artist: Guto Lacaz (Marcelo Guarnieri), with the installation “Cosmo – A walk in the infinite”.

In the 12th edition, in 2018, Gwangju used the theme “Imagined Borders” to propose a discussion on the concept of borders in the political, cultural, physical and emotional spheres in the current global community. The exhibition was curated by a team of eleven art critics, a decision justified by the organization as a means of “ensuring that various voices and perspectives are included”.

From Brazilian artists, works by Lais Myrrha (SIM Galeria), Mauro Restiffe (Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel) and Clarissa Tossin (Luisa Strina) were exhibited. Myrrha was presented with a case study of the Palácio da Alvorada, in Brasília, in which she reproduced one of its iconic pillars through a fragile structure, provoking a debate about the colonial histories that supported Brazilian modernism.

Restiffe went to the Bienal with the series of photographs “Empossamento” (2003), images taken in Brasília during President Lula’s inauguration, framing the Palácio da Alvorada with the crowd present at the event. In the series “Tlatelolco” (2010), the artist portrayed the Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco, one of the largest housing complexes in Mexico, designed by architect Mario Pani and the scene of a violent massacre in 1968.

Finally, Tossin used images of the Monumental Axis of Brasília produced by satellite to build “Brasília by Foot” (2009), generating footprint trails on the city’s main thoroughfare. And, in “Monument to Sacolândia” (2013), the artist exposed a bag of cement to problematize the informal settlements inhabited by the thousands of workers who migrated during the construction of the city.

Still do filme “O peixe” (2016), Jonathas de Andrade (Foto: Bienal de Istambul / Divulgação)
"Circa" (2018), Anna Bella Geiger (Foto: Divulgação)

Still from the movie “O peixe” [The Fish] (2016), Jonathas de Andrade (Photo: Istanbul Biennial / Publicity)

"Circa" (2018), Anna Bella Geiger (Photo: Publicity)

“Visão de terra” (1977), Glauco Rodrigues (Foto: Bienal de Istambul / Divulgação)

“Visão de terra” (1977), Glauco Rodrigues (Photo: Istanbul Biennial / Publicity)

Istanbul Biennial (Turkey)

The 2019 edition of the Istanbul Biennial dealt with the theme “The Seventh Continent”, the name of the huge mass of waste officially recognizes as a formation in the most recent geological era, characterized by the impact of human activities on the planet. The exhibition was curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, a French critic who defended the theory of relational aesthetics in art.

In 2019, the event counted with participation of three Brazilians: Glauco Rodrigues, Jonathas de Andrade (Vermelho) and Anna Bella Geiger (Mendes Wood DM). The former was represented by his work “Visão de terra” (1977), a painting that can be interpreted as a representation of political leadership and a criticism of white power.

Jonathas de Andrade, from Alagoas, presented “O peixe” [The Fish] (2016), a work commissioned by the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo. His works talk about subjects such as colonialism, creation of myths and, of course, nature. Geiger showed the installation “Circa” (2006), representing an archaeological site to question the possibility of distortion of history depending on its intention.

The Istanbul Biennial has been running since 1987, organized by İstanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfı, a non-profit cultural institution that also produces the city’s annual film, music, jazz, design and theater festivals.

Série "Picaré from raíz" (2018), Sonia Gomes (Foto: Bienal de Liverpool / Divulgação)
"Restauro" (2016), Jorge Menna Barreto. 32ª Bienal de São Paulo (Foto: Janaina Miranda)

Series "Picaré from raíz" (2018), Sonia Gomes (Photo: Liverpool Biennial / Publicity)

"Restauro" (2016), Jorge Menna Barreto. 32ª Bienal de São Paulo (Photo: Janaina Miranda)

Liverpool Biennial (England)

According to the organization itself, the Liverpool Biennial is the largest contemporary art festival in the United Kingdom. It was founded by the Arts Council England, a public initiative, and by the City of Liverpool, making the event happen since 1999.

In 2020, the 11th edition of the exhibition aims to explore the notions of the human body and how it shapes itself depending on the environment it is in. Named “The Stomach and the Port”, the Biennial was curated by Manuela Moscoso, Ecuadorian curator of the Museo Tamayo (Mexico City) and the 12th Biennial of Cuenca (Ecuador).

Brazilians artists participating in the upcoming edition are Sonia Gomes (Mendes Wood DM), an artist from Minas Gerais who participated in the 56th Venice Biennale. Gomes works with sculptures and installations made from different materials such as wire, furniture and fabrics.

Also exhibited in Liverpool, artist Jorge Menna Barreto, from the São Paulo countryside, works on agroforestry, the practice of planting trees in conjunction with agricultural crops to improve the use of natural resources and food production. With this focus, Barreto produces works that consider the digestive system as a tool to produce sculptures that shape our environment.

Peça da série “Inserções em circuitos ideológicos” (1970-1975), Cildo Meireles (Foto: Bienal de Arte Paiz / Divulgação)
Peça da série “Inserções em circuitos ideológicos” (1970-1975), Cildo Meireles (Foto: Bienal de Arte Paiz / Divulgação)

Piece from the series “Inserções em circuitos ideológicos” [Insertions in Ideological Circuits] (1970-1975), Cildo Meireles (Photo: Bienal de Arte Paiz / Publicity)

Piece from the series “Inserções em circuitos ideológicos” [Insertions in Ideological Circuits] (1970-1975), Cildo Meireles (Photo: Bienal de Arte Paiz / Publicity)

Bienal de Art Paiz (Guatemala)

Second oldest in Latin America, the Bienal de Arte Paiz is proud to have completed all its editions even under conditions of war and repression in Guatemala. It is worth remembering that in 2018 the country suffered from the eruption of three volcanoes, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the destruction of many houses in Guatemala City, where the event is held. The upcoming edition of the event, in 2020, will be curated by Alexia Tala, in charge of the Solo sector at SP-Arte 2019.

The 21st edition, held in 2018, was not guided by any specific theme, considering that thematic events often manipulate the discourse of the work to fit the proposed argument. Gerardo Mosquera, Cuban organizer of the first Havana Biennial, in 1984, and former curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, says on the event’s website that thus it “proposes a biennial model that seems appropriate to the situation in Guatemala and with the evolution of the Bienal de Arte Paiz as a living event “.

In the edition, Mosquera selected Brazilian Cildo Meireles (Luisa Strina), an artist who proposes synesthetic works, using more than one of the human senses to create a meaningful experience for the viewer. At the Bienal, Meirelles exhibited pieces from the series “Insertions in Ideological Circuits” (1970-1975), in which he printed phrases considered subversive on money bills and bottles of coca-cola and returned them to the market, creating a movement difficult to be censored by Brazilian dictatorship.


Giovana Christ is a journalism student at ECA – USP, a Brazilian carnival enthusiast and passionate about all types of cultural events. She is part of the editorial team at SP-Arte.

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