Biennials in Odessa, Istanbul, Beijing, and Karachi – The Global Scene to Be Aware of – For Artists Only

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With the historic opening of Documenta 14 in Athens this month, now is a perfect time to take a look around the world at more of the biennials happening in every corner throughout the year. You may recall a previous post in which we discussed three of the brightest stars in the biennial universe (namely, Venice, Whitney, and Documenta) but there is more to the vast world of biennials than just those few. There are old and new festivals celebrating cultural and political stories from every part of the globe imaginable. In these times of increased global awareness and community, the biennial may be one of the best conduits to further difficult conversations. The four biennials here take place in nations where socio-political upheaval has been or is part of the nations’ recent past or present existence.

Odessa Biennale
A relative newcomer to the biennial scene, Odessa Biennale was established in 2013 by The Museum of Modern Art, Odessa. The first biennale was titled Self-government: cultural evolution vs. revolution. Participants were asked to examine the relationship and contradiction between various forms of freedom (personal, social, small group) and the impositions and restrictions of self-government. The upcoming biennale, set for August 26-September 30 is titled Turbulence. This year’s exhibition is rooted in Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book, Future Shock. Toffler examined the idea of collective shock as a result of living during a time of extreme change. Spinning out from the ancient curse, “may you live in an era of change” this year’s biennale seeks to disrupt the notion that extreme change is outside the ordinary and instead posits that all of human existence has been based around rotating times of chaos and calm. Open call for the 2017 biennale ended in December, but for future events (the next is slated for 2019) artists are always welcome to contribute their work for consideration.

Istanbul Biennale
This year will mark the 15th Istanbul Biennial. Since its inception in 1987, Istanbul has made the move to become an artist curated biennial. This year curation is headed up by artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, Danish artists who explore the crossroads of art, architecture, and design. Istanbul has risen to a high place among the world’s biennial festivals, now being given similar footing to Venice, Sao Paolo, and Sydney. The event seeks to bring together Turkish artists as well as artists from the international community in order to further dialogue and exchange of cultural ideas. Past themes have included 2013’s Mom, am i barbarian? And in 2015 Saltwater: a theory of thought forms. The 2017 biennial is working in collaboration with the 2017 Istanbul film festival, both of which are exploring the title topic A Good Neighbor. In addition to the contemporary art program, the biennial will include ten feature and five short films all curated by Elmgreen and Dragset. The films (as well as the art) will look at the concept of home as a means of portraying identity and the intricacies of community and co-existence. The 2017 Istanbul Biennial runs from September 16-Novermber 12.

Beijing International Art Biennale
China is a nation with an ancient history of art as well as a finger on the developing pulse of the future. It is a burgeoning international economy as well as a land steeped in cultural tradition. The biennial was begun following China’s ascent to the WTO as well as their 2008 hosting of the Olympic Games. Through art, the Beijing Biennale seeks to further the notion of plurality as China continues to open its borders and join the world stage. The overall theme of each biennial is stated as demonstrating “the graceful bearing of opening up in an all-round way.” A few of the tenets of the Beijing Biennale are, “building a grand path and bridge for international cultural exchanges” and “closely combining arts with international trends and national interests, developing the resource advantages in serving society and human beings.” The theme of the 2017 Biennale, set to run from September 24-October 15 at National Art Museum of China, encapsulates these basic principles. The Silk Road and World’s Civilizations considers the ancient tradition of China’s Silk Road and the new tradition of peaceful international development.

Karachi Biennale
In its first ever biennale, Pakistan will explore bold themes under the title Witness. According to the festival website, “Art as a testament of its time has always held significance, particularly in times when memory is heavily contested. According to Milan Kundera, ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memories against forgetting’. The theme Witness has been chosen for its strong relevance to politics of representation, erasure and selective documentation.” Pakistan has been a nation of political and social strife. Like much of the world today, upheaval has been a strong contributor to individual experience. Art has always been a medium that can reach beyond difficult times and continue a dialogue outside the socio-political arena. Karachi’s first Biennale will be curated by Amin Gulgee who grew up in Karachi.

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