Summary of South Africa at the Venice Biennale

Home / JOURNAL / Articles / The Venice Biennale: Past and present / Summary of South Africa at the Venice Biennale
The Arsenale in Venice

1950 – 25th Venice Biennale

In 1950 South Africa debuted at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting in the foreign halls of the Biennale’s central pavilion. Artists: Walter Battiss, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern, Maud Sumner, Sydney Kumalo and Maurice van Essche. Stern exhibited throughout the 1950s in Venice. After 1950 to 1968 South Africa was excluded due to apartheid politics.

1968– 34th Venice Biennale

South African Pavilion – South Africa was not officially included as pavilion, but in 1968 Lucas Sithole and Rorke’s Drift weavers were included in the Biennale. Cecil Skotnes also showed work. South Africa only showed in 1993 again. 

1993– 45th Venice Biennale

The Biennale Director was Achille Bonito Oliva. South African Pavilion – Ostracised for decades due to apartheid, South Africa returned to Venice in 1993 on invitation from the director, Achilo Bonito Oliva. His theme was The Cardinal Points of Art. The South African Association of Arts (SAAA) curated the exhibition. There were three parts: two main artists, Jackson Hlungwani and Sandra Kriel, were part of Oliva’s exhibition in the Italian Pavilion; an exhibition of 24 artists in the Fondazione Levi; and Bonnie Ntshalintshali in the Aperto. 

1995– 46th Venice Biennale

The theme for the exhibition was Identità e alterità (‘Identity and Alterity’), held in collaboration with Palazzo Grassi and curated by Jean Clair. South African Pavilion – Curator: Malcolm Payne. Artists: Malcolm Payne (solo), Rudolph Hartzenberg and Brett Murray.

2011– 54th Venice Biennale

Curated by art historian and titled ILLUMInations. South African Pavilion – In 2011 South Africa was part of the Biennale again after a 16-year hiatus Curator: Monna Mokoena. Artists: Nelisiwe Xaba and Zanele Muholi.

2013– 55th Venice Biennale

Curated by Massimiliano Gioni, entitled The Encylopedic Palace.South African Pavilion – Theme: Imaginary Fact: Contemporary South African Art and the Archive. Curator:Brenton Maart. Artists:Kay Hassan, Sue Williamson, Donna Kukama, Athi-Patra Ruga, James Webb, Kemang wa Lehulere, Penny Siopis, Wim Botha, Johannes Phukela, Cameron Platter, Andrew Putter, Sam Nhlengethwa, David Koloane, Gerhard Marx, Maja Marx and Philip Miller, and Joanne Bloch.

2015– 56th Venice Biennale

Entitled All The World’s Futures and curated by Okwui Enwezor. Enwezor included several South Africans in his main exhibition, namely Kay Hassan, Joachim Schonfeldt, Marlene Dumas and Mikhael Subotsky.  South African Pavilion – Curators: Christopher Till and Jeremy Rose. Artists: Willem Boshoff, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Angus Gibson, Mark Lewis, Gerald Machona, Mohau Modisakeng, Nandipha Mntambo, Brett Murray, Jo Ractliffe, Robin Rhode, Warrick Sony, Diane Victor and Jeremy Wafer.

2017– 57th Venice Biennale

Curated by Christine Macel, entitled Viva Arte Viva. South African Pavilion – Curator: Lucy MacGarry.  Assistant-curator: Musha Neluheni. Artists: Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz.

2019 – 58th Venice Biennale

Curated by Ralph Rugoff with the theme of May You Live in Interesting Times. South African Pavilion – Theme: The stronger we become. Curators: Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu. Artists: Tracey Rose, Mawande Ka Zenzile and Dineo Bopape.