First-Time Exhibitor Morocco Abruptly Replaces Its Venice Biennale Pavilion

The snubbed artists and curators say they were given no reason for the last-minute switch up.

Three artists and three curators were commissioned to produce Morocco's first national pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale before they were dropped by Morocco's Ministry of Culture on January 15th. Image courtesy of Mahi Binebine.

With the 60th Venice Biennale now just months away, Morocco has made some last minute changes to its first-ever national pavilion. The ministry of culture has reportedly dropped its original choice of artists and curators in favor of another exhibition curated by Paris-based art historian Mouna Mekouar.

The news broke Tuesday via a joint online statement posted by artists Majida Khatari, Safaa Erruas, and Fatiha Zemouri, and curators Mahi Binebine, Imane Barakat, and Mostafa Aghrib. The group said they were invited to propose an idea for the Moroccan Pavilion’s inaugural exhibition in September. That month, the ministry sent them to Venice where they checked out the location and met with the Biennale’s director general Andrea Del Mercato.

In order to meet the Biennale’s January 11 deadline for submissions, the group started out by funding the project themselves on the understanding that they would later be reimbursed by the ministry. One of the snubbed curators, Paris-based painter and writer Mahi Binebine, said that he poured €40,000 ($50,000) of his own money into the project. The group kept in contact with the ministry, “constantly alerting those in charge to the consequences of last-minute preparations,” according to their statement. They were repeatedly instructed to wait.

On Monday January 15, the reason for the delay was revealed. Binebine and Erruas both said they received “an unsettling call informing us that the Ministry was preparing a second project in parallel, with a different team and different artists.” No reason for the decision was apparently given.

Few details have so far been released about the alternative project but, according to Binebine, who spoke to Le Monde Afrique, it will be curated by Mekouar. Neither she nor the ministry have yet confirmed the news and the ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the decision.

“It’s a very hard blow,” Safaa Erruas told the French language newspaper, explaining that she had to rent out a second workshop in order to complete her large-scale sculptural contribution. “I worked with a lot of passion, because I was honored to represent Morocco,” she added. “Today is a nightmare. How can an institution that is supposed to help and promote artists disrespect them to this extent?”

An exhibition text for the snuffed project set out its aim to explore the idea of “the strange,” with each of the three artists offering their own unique interpretation to “arouse curiosity and intrigue among visitors.” It is well known that, while the number of global biennales continues to grow, their organization comes at a huge cost that is too often shouldered by the artists themselves.

The group of dropped artists and curators closed their statement by wishing their replacements “all the success in the world.” They added, “with dignity, we remain hopeful in this Morocco that hurts us.”

The Venice Biennale opens to the public on April 20, closing on November 24, 2024 and its main exhibition has the theme of “Foreigners Everywhere.” Check out our regularly updated list of national pavilions heading to Venice this year.


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