When Algeria Abruptly Cancelled its Venice Biennale Debut, Five Young Artists Decided Their Show Must Go On

Amid political turmoil, the artists and curator raised the money for the guerrilla Algeria pavilion titled "Time to Shine Bright."

Amina Zoubir. Searching for the Algerian Pavilion (2013). Performance during Venice Biennale. Courtesy of the artist.

A group of young Algerian artists have unveiled a guerrilla pavilion in Venice after officials in the politically unstable country abruptly cancelled what would have been its first official participation in the Venice Biennale. 

Politicians in the North African country cut the funding for the Algeria pavilion without warning two days after the fall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in early April. The five participating artists and the pavilion’s curator, who were not consulted before the new ministry of culture made its announcement, decided to take matters into their own hands. With only weeks to go before the biennale’s all-important preview week, they launched a fundraising campaign to create an unofficial Algeria pavilion. They successfully raised just enough money, thanks to sympathetic sponsors.

Their Venice exhibition, which is titled “Time to Shine Bright,” features work by Amina Zoubir, Rachida Azadou, Hamza Bounoua, Mourad Krinah, and Oussama Tabti. Speaking to artnet News, Amina Zoubir explained that the artists are part of a generation who took part in the “Hirak” movement, taking to the streets to demand political and democratic change. The protests led to the country’s 82-year-old president stepping down on April 2 after two decades in power.

The interim Algerian government announced on Facebook that the country’s first Venice pavilion would be postponed until 2021, citing financial and organizational problems. The pavilion’s curator, Hellal Mahmoud Zoubir, told The Art Newspaper at the time that the artists in the exhibition “don’t agree with the ministry’s action,” and said they would seek alternative funding for their participation. True to his word, the pavilion opened yesterday in a space not far from the Giardini, with the only key difference being that it is no longer part of the official biennale program.

A work by Oussama Tabti at the Algeria Pavilion. Photo by Naomi Rea.

Although Algeria gained its independence from France in 1962, it has never previously shown at the world’s most prestigious art exhibition. Amina Zoubir says that political instability should not be an excuse to extinguish their creative light. “We are artists, not politicians,” she says.

Resistance and resilience is a theme of the works on show, and the curator, who is Amina Zoubir’s father, explains in the curatorial text for the exhibition that it was a direct response to the theme chosen by the biennale’s artistic director, Ralph Rugoff: “May You Live in Interesting Times.” Hellal Mahmoud Zoubir writes that it: “Challenged me and evoked the immediate reality of Algerian society, and the news that punctuates this moment of transformation.” Amid the darkness of existential emptiness, he writes, “it is high time for us to sparkle with our light.”

The Algeria Pavilion, “Time to Shine Bright,” May 11 through November 24 at Fondamenta S. Giuseppe 925, Venice.

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