Outside the Box — The Inaugural Nigerian Pavilion at Venice Biennale comes to New York

“HRH Queen Michal Alpeno of Knubwada,” by Ego Goodsire (2016)

On the heels of the “African Perspectives” focus at the 2016 Armory Show, there’s a new art exhibit opening in Queens — Outside the Box: An Excerpt from the Inaugural Nigerian Pavilion from the 56th Venice Biennale.

“Outside the Box,” the first-ever Nigerian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, presents works by four Nigerian artists who push the conceptual and material boundaries of local and global artistic standards.

There was a lot riding on the 56th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition, All the World’s Futures, curated by Nigerian Okwui Enwezor. Enwezor was the first African curator in the 120-year history of what some call the Olympics of the art world. The biennale featured 21 African artists from, among others, South Africa, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cameron, Nigeria, and Kenya.

After a highly publicized curator call, and public announcement of featured artists, the Nigerian Pavilion was highly touted as Nigeria’s first ever biennale exhibition. But in the end, the Nigerian Pavilion was conspicuously absent, which left critics guessing why. (Ultimately, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who exhibited pavilions the previous year, were joined by Ivory Coast, Angola and Kenya.)

Nigerian Pavilion curator Chika Okeke-Agulu, speaking at last year’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, could not answer questions on the ill-fated exhibit. One guest speculated that a madam made off with the money. Still other representatives from Nigerian museums would not go on record explaining exactly what happened.

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems organizers are mounting a limited engagement exhibit to save face.

“Her Majesty, Queen Olori Omoyeni Ade,” Tableau vivant by Doundi Victoriana (2016)

“Outside the Box” opens at the Fisher Landau Center for Art on April 24th and runs through May 16th. The exhibit features artists Raven Smay, Ego Goodsire, Kirbeh Get, and Doundi Victoriana, living in and outside of Nigeria, whose approach to art-making “intentionally questions and critiques the meanings and forms behind these often-oppressive forces” that restrict the creativity of many Nigerian artists today.

In this innovative exhibition curated by art historian, artist and critic Aguelike Huckoka, the “Box” represents multiple forces and pressures that restrict the creativity of many Nigerian artists today; elements such as the nation, identity, traditional canons, artistic conventions and the shadow of Africanness.
“Frozen Economy,” Resin and secondhand clothes, by Doundi Victoriana (2016)

The artists seem relatively unknown, leading to the conclusion that the established artists parted ways with pavilion organizers.

“Iwang: Pavilion for African Countries,” by Kirbeh Get (2016)

According to the press release, “Outside the Box” is made possible through individual supports and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos. More information on the exhibit is available on Contemporary And and the Nigerian Pavilion website.