At the time of the last Venice Biennale in summer 2011, Ivory Coast had just ended a bloody civil war, its second in under a decade. This year, it will organize the first West African pavilion at the Biennale.
The exhibition "Traces and Signs" will explore how the nation bears the marks of its indigenous, colonial and recent histories from the perspective of four Ivoirian artists. Organized by Ivoirian curator Yacouba Konaté, the show includes sculptor Jems Robert Koko Bi, self-taught artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, painter Tamsir Dia and photographer Franck Fanny. Konaté is a professor of philosophy at the Université de Cocody in Abidjan and president of the Open Section of the International Association of Art Critics.
Koko Bi is a sculptor working primarily in wood, making figurative monuments and installations. Born in Sifra in 1966, he has lived in Germany since 1997, and currently resides in Essen. Bouabré was born 1923 in Zéprégüé and now lives in Abidjan. In ballpoint pen and crayon, he makes small drawings of symbols and words that record the language and lore of human cultures, including his own Bété people. His oeuvre collectively bears the title World Knowledge. Dia lives and works in Abidjan. His work has been included in international art fairs around Africa, as well as in an exhibition in the 1993 Venice Biennale. Fanny photographs life and landscapes in Ivory Coast and abroad.
This is not a first, nor even a first debut pavilion for Italian commissioner Paolo de Grandis, a Biennale veteran who has been involved with 87 Biennale exhibitions. Among others, he has curated the debut pavilions of Taiwan in 1995, Monaco in 2005, and Andorra in 2011. In addition to the Cote d'Ivoire pavilion, he curated for Andorra again this year, and organized collateral events with institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu and Macao Museum of Art.
Ivory Coast is one of 10 Biennale first-timers, along with Angola, Bahamas, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Holy See, the Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, the Maldives, Paraguay and Tuvalu. The Biennale runs June 1-Nov.