Unit Gallery’s Venice Show Highlights the Radical Black Imagination

Curated by Indie A. Choudhury, the exhibition brings together newly commissioned and historical works.

Romare Bearden, Obeah Woman (1984–86). Courtesy of Unit, London.

Coinciding with the Venice Biennale 2024, London’s Unit gallery presents the group exhibition “In Praise of Black Errantry,” which honors and explores the radical Black imagination. On view from April 17 through June 29 in the 15th-century palace of Palazzo Pisani S. Marina in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice, the exhibition is curated by art historian Indie A. Choudhury. The show takes inspiration from the idea that errantry can be understood as a manifestation of resistance and self-determination that transcends borders, which was  proposed by Martinique-born French writer and philosopher Édouard Glissant.

A central figurative image framed by a golden three sided square.

Adelaide Damoah, Kpaanyc (Eight) (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Unit, London.

Speaking of the curatorial direction of the show, Choudhury said, “The Afro-diasporic artists presented in this exhibition take up errantry as a radical strategy that defies boundaries and advocates spontaneity and experimentation beyond cultural fixity or political containment. Spanning different themes, the exhibition considers how artists have refuted conventional codes of representation or pushed against the constraints of formal rules of style, color, medium, or genre towards technical innovation, artistic evolution, and liberation.”

Featuring the work of both contemporary and historic artists, the exhibition dialogues with the theme of the Venice Biennale, “Foreigners Everywhere,” curated by Adriano Pederosa. While “Foreigners Everywhere” takes a celebratory outward look across race, gender, and nationality, “In Praise of Black Errantry” traces the importance of moving beyond national borders or bounds of exile “in celebration of artists who are, themselves, challenging conventional discourses.”

Two nude black collage figures against a background of white yarn.

Anya Paintsil, Nose bleeds, no back teeth no eyebrows. I’m a slow learner apparently. Except for knitting, picked that up in seconds (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Unit, London.

A site-specific sound installation by Trevor Mathison of Dubmorphology and Black Audio Film Collective will be accompanied by a range of newly commissioned works by Stacey Gillian Abe, Winston Branch, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Rachel Jones, Hilda Kortei, Sola Olulode, Charmaine Watkiss, and Anya Paintsil.

Paintsil said of her practice in relation to the show, “My practice is quite rooted in waywardness and errantry, while also being entirely born out of tradition—both African and European. As a Black artist making figurative textiles, depicting Black people in non-realistic ways, my work has occasionally engaged? With distaste—in the way I form features, the nudity, the facial expressions… I feel there’s a real pressure in Black figuration to always have your depictions be regal or dignified in the way of European portraiture. I have no interest in this.

I went to art school so I’m not an outsider artist, but my inspiration, the art I was exposed to most until my early twenties, was West African carvings—statues, masks—and they are what formed my visual language. My practice is rooted completely outside European high art; it is rooted outside the art of upper-class people.”

White chalk drawings of riffles, pitchforks, and a crown on a blackboard.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Samo II (1981). Courtesy of Unit, London.

This collection of works will be juxtaposed by work by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Hank Willis Thomas, and Miranda Forrester, just to name a few.

The show marks Unit’s first exhibition during the Venice Biennale, and speaks to the gallery’s mission to research-led initiatives that foster and support artists as well as meaningfully add to dialogues and discourse around the contemporary culture—both within and beyond traditional programming formats.

In Praise of Black Errantry” is on view in the Palazzo Pisani S. Marina, Venice, April 17–June29, 2024.

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