A guide to the Arab pavilions at Venice Biennale 2024

Six spaces at the contemporary visual art exhibition will focus on work from the region, including the UAE

The 60th Venice Art Biennale's theme will be Foreigners Everywhere. Photo: Andrea Avezzu / La Biennale di Venezia
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The 60th Venice Art Biennale will be running from April 20 until November 24 in Italy under the theme of Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.

Through various national pavilions and events, the theme will explore identity, nationality, race and gender. Out of 331 artists invited to the biennial, over 40 are Arab, from countries such as UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Sudan.

Their works will be shown across two sections of the biennial – The Nucleo Contemporaneo, featuring artists who are currently active, and the Nucleo Storico, featuring important artists from history.

There will also be six Arab pavilions present, five of which will be solo exhibitions and one a group show. Though only a small sample size, it will showcase variety beyond mediums and artistic style, as each pavilion will reflect the nuance and diversity of Arab artists in the region and the spectrum of conceptual and technical prowess and ability.

From one of the UAE’s most renowned conceptual figures to a Lebanese artist creating immersive worlds and Oman’s creative trailblazers, here are the pavilions showcasing Arabian talents at the 60th Venice Art Biennale.

United Arab Emirates: Abdullah Al Saadi

Emirati conceptual artist Abdullah Al Saadi will be representing the UAE at the biennial for the second time in an exhibition titled Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia.

Al Saadi is a renowned and influential figure in the contemporary art scene in the UAE, having previously represented the country at the biennial in 2017.

Exhibiting his work since the 1980s, Al Saadi employs painting, drawing, sculpting, performance and photography, as well as collecting and cataloguing found objects and even the creation of new alphabets. No matter the medium, Al Saadi’s work has often explored the individual’s connection with nature or society along with the UAE’s landscape and his own family history.

Egypt: Wael Shawky

Multimedia artist Wael Shawky will be representing Egypt at the Venice Biennale this year with his show Drama 1882.

Curated by Shawky himself, Drama 1882 is a filmed rendition of an original musical play that he also directed, choreographed and composed. The narrative focuses on Egypt’s nationalist Urabi revolution against imperial influence, which took place from 1879 to 1882.

Drama 1882 will focus on particular historical and literary references from that era as a starting point where Shawky then interweaves fact, fiction and stories to explore themes around religious, artistic and national identity.

Known for his storytelling style and his extensive research-based work, Shawky works across a number of mediums including film, performance, painting, sculpture and more. He's specifically interested in looking at contemporary culture and life through historical tradition and events.

Lebanon: Mounira Al Solh

The lines between reality and mythology will be blurred in conceptual artist Mounira Al Solh’s multimedia installation A Dance with her Myth at the Lebanese pavilion.

Painting, drawing, sculpture, embroidery and video will be integrated in the exhibition where Al Solh explores ancient Phoenicia through her contemporary artistic techniques. This immersive work is based on a Greco-Phoenician myth, and it is used by Al Solh to comment on contemporary events, focusing mainly on the challenges women must navigate.

Al Solh is known for her unique and playful approach when exploring themes centred around politics, gender issues and feminism.

Oman: Malath-Haven

This year, Oman is highlighting the work of four artists whom they are crediting for stimulating and revitalising the country’s contemporary art scene.

The artists whose works will be on show are Ali Al Jabri, known for his marble and wood sculptures; Essa Al Mufarji who makes clay-based works; photographer and artist Sarah Al Olaqi; and Adham Al Farsi, praised in Oman for his interactive installations.

Their group show titled Malath-Haven will be an eclectic exhibition featuring the artists' work – all falling within the umbrella of the biennial’s theme, Foreigners Everywhere.

Saudi Arabia: Manal Al Dowayan

In a multimedia installation titled Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, artist Manal Al Dowayan will explore the evolving role of women in Saudi Arabia.

As part of her research and preparation for the exhibition, Al Dowayan took inspiration from her community. In January, she hosted three events in Al Khobar, Jeddah, and Riyadh for a thousand women of all ages.

The events featured group-singing sessions to reflect the idea of visibility and invisibility in the context of the global media, where Al Dowayan wrote and illustrated what the women saw in one another.

For Al Dowayan, Shifting Sands: A Battle Song is a call for solidarity and autonomy over identity.

Al Dowayan is known for her diverse body of work spanning a variety of mediums including photography, sound and sculpture, exploring themes of collective memory and active forgetting.

The 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will take place from April 20 to November 24.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 8:02 AM