What to See at the 60th Venice Biennale – the Elephant Roundup

Already dubbed by some as the most diverse International Art Exhibition yet, “Foreigners Everywhere” counts many newcomers among its pavilions. Here’s what you can’t miss

As the first openly queer Artistic Director of the Venice Biennale – the second one from the Global South after Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor’s 56th International Art Exhibition All the World’s Futures (2015) – Rio de Janeiro-born Adriano Pedrosa has made a deliberate effort to welcome artists whose stories, communities and countries have traditionally been overlooked in the prestigious Italian showcase on its global stage. With a record of 13 African countries participating in the event as an official pavilion, many of which for the first time, and plenty of Indigenous, First Nations, Native as well as LGBTQI+ artists featured in both Foreigners Everywhere – the Venice Biennale’s main presentation – its pavilions and other collateral events, the 60th International Art Exhibition is marked by a tangible desire for change. Ahead of its grand opening on 20 April, we have compiled a list of must-see showcases to keep an eye on as you build your Venetian itinerary. Ready? Three! Two! One! GO!


Group presentation, Nigeria Imaginary – Nigeria

Abraham Oghobase, Rock Anatomy, 2018 Image: © Art Twenty One, Lagos Courtesy: The Art Institute of Chicago; Purchased with funds provided by Thomas E. Keim; Photography Associates Fund

Curated by Nigerian-British curator and art historian Aindrea Emelife, Nigeria Imaginary – the country’s second appearance as an official pavilion at the Biennale – is an heterogenous archive of oral histories, rituals and traditions as embraced in the medium-spanning experimentation of artists Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Ndidi Dike, Onyeka Igwe, Toyin, Ojih Odutola, Abraham Oghobase, Precious Okoyomon, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA and Fatimah Tuggar. Hosted within the raw, porous frame of Palazzo Canal in the Dorsoduro district, the showcase gathers photography, sculpture, fabric tapestries and installation in an investigation into Nigerianness. Responding to the opening lines of Nigerian Modernism pioneer and artist Uche Okeke’s manifesto Natural Synthesis (1960) – “Young artists in a new nation, that is what we are! We must grow with the new Nigeria and work to satisfy her traditional love for art or perish with our colonial past” – the exhibition revives the country’s centuries-spanning legacy to answer the question: what is next for Nigeria?

Trevor Yeung, Courtyard of Attachments, Hong Kong in Venice – Hong Kong

Pond of Never Enough (detail) 2024. Fish tanks, stainless-steel racks, fish pond, aquarium equipment, and canal water. 340 x 284 x 210 cm. Commissioned by M+, 2024 © Trevor Young. Photo © South Ho. Commissioned by M+, 2024

The brainchild of Hongkongese artist Trevor Yeung, Courtyard of Attachments is a spellbinding four-part showcase exploring humans’ relationship to different environments, their inhabitants and the way they relate with one another. Inspired by his fascination with fish tanks – something he picked up at his father’s seafood restaurant before becoming aware of the destiny of the species on display – the Hong Kong pavilion takes shape from a series of empty aquariums. Conceived as miniatures of the world’s endangered ecosystems, the fish tanks interact with the audience’s expectations of them – how, though devoid of living fish, the viewers still associate them with animal life – to spark a reflection on hospitality culture, our desire to dominate other species and the paradox of being an “animal caretaker”. Curated by fellow Hongkonger Olivia Chow and on view at Campo della Tana, when interpreted more loosely, Courtyard of Attachments also shows us how our inclination towards the creation of artificial spaces reflects our “yearning to be an irreplaceable, distinctly defined part of something larger than ourselves, an ache to love and be loved”.

Group presentation, Everything Precious is Fragile – Benin

Ishola Akpo, Kpodjito II, 2023. Part of the Traces d’une reine series. Collage: digital photography, archive photography, cotton thread, paper. 42,5 x 35 cmCourtesy of the artist and Sabrina Amrani

Past, present and future collide in Benin’s Venice debut as a national pavilion. Steered by the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) and LagosPhoto Festival founder and director Azu Nwagbogu, the mind behind its curation, this presentation is one of the most anticipated of the 60th International Art Exhibition. It lands at a time of significant growth for the cultural and touristic sector of the Republic of Benin; one that has recently seen the country regain possession of 26 looted royal objects from the colonial era previously stored in the collection of Paris’ Musée du Quai Branly. Titled Everything Precious is Fragile, the showcase weaves artists Chloé Quenum, Moufouli Bello, Ishola Akpo and Romuald Hazoumè’s manifold understandings of Beninois identity into a dense, socially as well as politically charged portrait of a country on the rise. Hazoumè, whose practice repurposes discarded plastic oil tanks into totemic structures echoing Benin’s centuries-old ivory masks, leverages the monumental volumes of his works to raise awareness of the smuggling of petrol between Benin and Nigeria. Bello and Akpo look into Beninese womanhood through photographic artworks which elevate them to modern deities, while France-based Quenum’s multidisciplinary installations fuse her minimalist approach to artmaking with textures and materials echoing her Beninois father’s upbringing.

Guerreiro do Divino Amor, Super Superior Civilizations – Switzerland 

“Roma Talismano” still image, photo by Guerreiro do Divino Amor & Diego Paulino, with performers Ventura Profana, Adriana Carvalho and Amanda Seraphico, 2023

Immerse yourself in the uncanny fictional dimensions envisioned by Swiss-Brazilian artist Guerreiro do Divino Amor in Super Superior Civilizations, curated by Andrea Bellini. Part of his 20-years-spanning Superfictional World Atlas saga – a cartographic project breathing new life into different landmarks across the world through a quirky, flamboyant approach to storytelling – the Swiss pavilion’s presentation grapples with “the relationship between urban space and collective imagination, architecture and ideology, political propaganda and national identity”. Spotlighted here for the first time are The Miracle of Helvetia and Roma Talismano, the sixth and seventh chapters of the artist’s audiovisual series. If the former builds on Switzerland’s reputation as a heaven on earth to investigate the country’s apparent balance between nature and technology, capitalism and democracy, rusticity and sophistication; the latter appropriates Rome’s colossal marble structures – a legacy of both the Roman Empire and the city’s fascist era – and local mythologies into a phantasmagorical retelling of its civilisation. Starring Brazilian multidisciplinary artist Ventura Profana as a singing Capitoline wolf, Roma Talismano rejects the cult of masculinity and whiteness still driving Western powers through an all-female cast which calls into question their self-ascribed moral, political and cultural superiority.

Archie Moore, kith and kin – Australia

Archie Moore / kith and kin2024 / Australia Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2024 / Photographer: Andrea Rossetti / © the artist / Image courtesy of the artist and The Commercial

As the second Aboriginal artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale with a solo show, Archie Moorehas a clear vision for his presentation: titled kith and kin (“friends and family”; Old English, “countrymen/one’s native land and family members”), the Australian pavilion invites the audience to scrutinise the country’s 254-year history against the backdrop of his family’s 65,000-year-old Indigenous heritage. Curated by Ellie Buttrose, Moore’s contribution to the International Art Exhibition takes the shape of a monumental genealogical chart attesting to his 2,400 generations-spanning, plurimillennial First Nations connections. Hand-drawn with white chalk across the pavilion’s five-metre-high black walls – which extend over a length of 60 metres – this colossus of an installation reflects on the aftermath of Australia’s colonial past by shedding light on how discrimination lives on in the ongoing racial profiling, police violence and overincarceration to which Native Australians continue to be subjected. It is a theme that serves as the core of kith and kin, as attested by the over 500 document stacks piled up on the suspended centre of the pavilion; each detailing coronial inquests on the deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody. Stressing the connection that, in Aboriginal thinking, reunites the land, the sky and all living organisms under the same kinship system, Moore’s immersive family tree was conceived so as to mimic the constellations and galaxies of a celestial map. When looking carefully, occasional gaps and holes can be spotted in its otherwise thickly dense fabric; these “moments of erasure,” explains the team behind kith and kin in a statement, “represent the atrocities inflicted upon First Nations communities, such as massacres, the introduction of diseases and destruction of knowledge,” in a visual rendition of the intergenerational trauma resulting from them. A call for accountability and action, Moore’s Venetian showcase doesn’t simply look back in history: just like in his ancestors’ understanding of time, in kith and kin past, present and future coexist. In facing the public with thousands of names and familial bonds outlining, at once, the enduring mass persecution and resilience of Aboriginal Australians, the artist makes it impossible for others not to see them.

Wael Shawky, Drama 1882 – Egypt

Wael Shawky, I Am Hymns of the New Temples, 2023. 4k video, sound, color, VFX, Arabic, 55 minutes. Courtesy the artist and the Ministry of Culture—Archaeological Park of Pompeii. © Wael Shawky.

Famous for his interdisciplinary approach to storytelling, Alexandria-born artist Wael Shawky will transform the Egyptian pavilion into a theatre showcasing his latest film, Drama 1882. The project – an audiovisual rendition of a musical play he previously directed, choreographed and composed – looks into a revolt led between 1879 and 1882 by Egyptian Colonel Ahmed Urabi and his army against the country’s monarch. The event, known as the Urabi Revolution, framed the then viceroy Tewfik Pasha’s subjugation to French and British imperial powers as an act of betrayal against his own people. Loosely inspired by the Venice Biennale’s 2024 theme Foreigners Everywhere, Shawky’s newest film portrays the occupying forces as foreigners in the eyes of the Egyptians to explore how the meaning of this term has shifted over the decades. 

“What does it mean to be ‘foreigners’?”, writes the artist in the exhibition announcement, prompting the public to ponder the relation between 19th-century colonisers and today’s criminalising conceptions of immigration. Conceived as a “moving painting”, Drama 1882 sees a group of professional performers sing in classical Arabic as the background morphs behind their shoulders. Honouring the Venetian craftsmanship tradition, the pavilion will frame the installation within a series of vitrines, sculptures, paintings, drawings and a mirror relief developed by Shawky in Murano. Elsewhere in Venice, his 2023 film I Am Hymns of the New Temples will serve as the core of a solo show of the same title at Museo di Palazzo Grimani.

Glicéria Tupinambá, Ka’a Pûera: we are walking birds – Hãhãwpuá (Brazil)

Glicéria Tupinambá. Photo of the Manto Tupinambá [TupinambáMantle] that was woven to be part of the Okará Assojaba installation at the Brazilian (Hãhãwpuá) Pavilion, 2024. Photo credits: Methodav/Fundação Bienalde Sao Paulo

Renamed Hãhãwpuá pavilion after an expression used by native Brazilians to refer to the South American country, Brazil’s participation in the 60th Venice Biennale celebrates the centuries-spanning heritage of the Tupinambá community – among the oldest inhabitants of the region. It does so by championing the work of Indigenous artist and activist Glicéria Tupinambá, the first one to ever represent the country with a solo pavilion at the International Art Exhibition, in Ka’a Pûera: we are walking birds: a groundbreaking exhibition delving into the Tupinambá’s fight to preserve their endangered land, culture and way of life from the threats of Brazil’s political administration. Core to the artist’s presentation is the unveiling of a newly crafted Tupinambá Mantle – a feathered cape she wove specifically for the Biennale in collaboration with the residents of southern Bahia, where Tupinambá comes from. 

The mantle, whose design dates back from the 17th century, is modelled after the only 11 surviving capes from the colonial era, most of which remain stored within the collections of European art institutions. Co-curated by Arissana Pataxó, Denilson Baniwa and Gustavo Caboco Wapichana, the pavilion takes the recent repatriation of one of these looted artefacts by the National Museum of Denmark as the starting point for a wider restitution process. The letters written by Tupinambá to each museum still in possession of one of such mantles also appear in the show, which acts as a reminder of the enduring legacy of colonialism, the West’s ongoing exploitation of Indigenous territories and resources, and their repercussions on the state of today’s climate.

Tesfaye Urgessa, Prejudice and Belonging – Ethiopia

Tesfaye Urgessa. Photo: Kameron Cooper. Courtesy the artist and Saatchi Yates

At Palazzo Bollani, Tesfaye Urgessa’s pastel-shaded, richly evocative canvases come to life in the first-ever Ethiopian pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Titled Prejudice and Belonging, the exhibition is an intimate reinterpretation of his experiences as an Addis Ababa-born, Germany-based artist. Sparked by Urgessa’s first-hand reflections on the challenges faced by immigrants – and especially by those of African descent – in starting over in Europe, this collection of paintings aims to render “humanity as a whole” by emphasising the contradictions inherent to our being and how these offer ground for mutual understanding. Curated by poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, Prejudice and Belonging emerges from the colliding of Urgessa’s intercontinental inspirations; from the vibrancy of Ethiopian churches’ stained-glass windows and iconography to the legacy of 20th-century pioneer painters Lucian Freud, Philip Guston and Francis Bacon and Russian realism. Capturing the multiple facets of one of today’s most promising visual artists, the presentation embodies the nuanced outlook on life Urgessa seeks to instil in his audience – it urges them to look beyond appearances.

Eimear Walshe, ROMANTIC IRELAND – Ireland

Production still. Eimear Walshe, Ireland at Venice. Photo © Faolaìn Carey

Longford-born Eimear Walshe uses their practice to examine the gendered and sexual dynamics associated with land and housing activism in Ireland. In their ambitious Venice presentation, ROMANTIC IRELAND, the artist bridges the country’s past and present by looking at how the compromises reached at the end of the 1880s in relation to land ownership and the governmental agenda of the early 19th century both planted the seed for today’s exponential housing crisis. In Ireland, a place of extraordinary natural beauty, the access to the countryside, mountains, seashores, lakes and rivers which constellate its landscape is still a prerogative of a few lucky landowners. With their Irish pavilion, which is curated by Sara Greavu and Project Arts Centre, Walshe seeks to rekindle kinship to envision collectivity-oriented alternatives to the Irish experience. Their Venetian offering consists of a multi-channel video installation spotlighting a group of performers led by choreographer Mufutau Yusuf; an opera entitled Romantic Ireland, for which Walshe wrote the libretto, composed by Amanda Feery; and an earth-built, immersive sculpture reminiscent of a domestic space. Seen through the artist’s queer, intersectional and, at traits, humoristic lens, the Irish sociopolitical climate is, at once, a theatre of “generational and class antagonisms” and “a building site of possibility”. Their surreal works convey the idea that the future can be hopeful, if observed from the right perspective.

Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise and Renzo Martens, The International Celebration of Blasphemy and the Sacred – the Netherlands

CATPC, The Judgement of the White Cube, 2023, performance. Photo: Jurgen Lisse

Congolese plantation workers’ cooperative-turned-art collective Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) and Dutch artist Renzo Martens are joining forces on the Netherlands pavilion at the Venice Biennale in a showcase which celebrates their years-spanning collaboration. Based in Lusanga, CATPC are leveraging the revenues raised through their art to buy back depleted plantations – including the former Unilever one where they set up shop – and repurpose them into “rich and diverse, ecological and egalitarian gardens”. Martens and CATPC’s collaborative journey began in 2014 and has so far seen them co-launch a sculpture workshop; build a White Cube now serving as the collective’s main exhibition space; and develop a film which explores how hijacking the Western understanding of contemporary art gallery has allowed CATPC to claim back the land they were deprived of by international corporations. 

The International Celebration of Blasphemy and the Sacred – their entry for the 60th International Art Exhibition, curated by Hicham Khalidi – further amplifies their mission: centring around their attempt to restore the local Sacred Forest, a site for ancestral rites and spiritual practices, the exhibition brings together sculptural works made with the soil of the last surviving patches of forest. Moulded in the raw materials obtained from the plantation, “these sculptures will allow for a shared equitable future, making it possible for us to reclaim our stolen lands, to reforest them and to welcome the post-plantation and sacred forest,” CATPC’s Ced’art Tamasala said in a statement. The presentation will be on view coincidentally at the Rietveld Pavilion in Venice and Lusanga’s White Cube in a symbolic conversation between the two countries.

Jeffrey Gibson, the space in which to place me – United States

Installation view of the space in which to place me (Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition for the United States Pavillon, 60th International Art Exhibition –La Biennale di Venezia), April 20 –November 24, 2024. Wall works from left to right: GIVE MY LIFE SOMETHING EXTRA(2024); THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, 2024. Birds from left to right: if there is no struggle there is no progress(2024); we are the witnesses (2024).Photograph by Timothy Schenck

Jeffrey Gibson’s solo presentation for the US pavilion, the space in which to place me, is a breath of fresh air; an imaginative, multiform maze which stands as an ode to Indigenous people’s America and their vibrant cultural heritage. Commissioned by Kathleen Ash-Milby, Louis Grachos and Abigail Winograd, the exhibition is a collaboration between Oregon’s Portland Art Museum and New Mexico’s SITE Santa Fe. Reflecting the vision behind Gibson’s practice, the showcase – which marks the first time a Native American artist represents the US with a solo exhibition pavilion – seeks to redirect the attention onto the plurality of approaches embraced by Indigenous creatives in their experimentation. From totemic textile sculptures and towering homages to American Indians’ traditional clothing to wall-large woven geometric tapestries, bird-shaped talismans and hypnotic audiovisual installations, the space in which to place me deliberately straddles innovation and tradition in a testament to Indigenous communities’ ever-evolving creativity, resilience and transformation. Enriched with an immersive public programme, Gibson’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale will bring a number of Native collectives and institutions – including the Colorado Intertribal Dancers and the Oklahoma Fancy Dancers, The Institute of American Indian Arts and The Center for Indigenous Studies at Bard College – to the Venetian Lagoon, where they are set to offer a series of talks, workshops and performances exploring the legacy of Indigenous North American art, culture and history. 


KOO JEONG A, Courtesy of PKM Gallery. Photo by Kim Je Won

Characterised by a sense of transience, Seoul-born KOO JEONG A’s biography and artistry embody the essence of a world in perpetual flux. It is an idea that sits at the core of contemporary living, with mass media information, pop culture and digitised explorations of the self constantly redefining our perception of the reality around us in tandem with technology’s distance-bridging power. Inspired by the notion of “expanded tactility”, in ODORAMA CITIES – the artist’s presentation for the Korean Pavilion – KOO JEONG A looks at our sensory interactions with, and recollections of different environments to cast a light on the subconscious dynamics of our memories making. An olfactory portrait of the Korean peninsula, the exhibition took shape from over 600 statements exploring the scents, smells, and odours that people associate with the East Asian country. Collected through an open call, these written contributions were turned into 16 scent experiences and an exclusive commercial fragrance by a team of perfumers. Located in the Giardini and directed by Seolhui Lee and Jacob Fabricius, ODORAMA CITIES will immerse the audience in a scent-led journey through floating and levitating sculptures responding to the artist’s fascination with concepts of immaterialism, weightlessness and infinity.


Leilah Babirye – Nucleo Contemporaneo

A series of sculptures realised by Ugandan artist Leilah Babirye. Courtesy the artist/Stephen Friedman Gallery

Uganda-born, New York-based artist Leilah Babirye is among the 331 artists spotlighted by Adriano Pedrosa’s two-part exhibition Foreigners Everywhere, which features a contemporary (“Nucleo Contemporaneo”) and a historical nucleus (“Nucleo Storico”). Incorporating urban detritus from the streets of New York, Babirye’s anthropomorphic sculptures heal the scars left by her personal story: a queer artist, she fled Uganda to New York after being publicly outed in an article by the local press. Symbolically reappropriating the pejorative term used in the Luganda language to address a gay person – abasiyazi – which, she explains, means “rubbish, the part of the sugarcane you throw out”, Babirye transforms discarded materials into statues and masks homaging the realities of the African LGBTQI+ community. From ceramics and metal to hand-carved wood, reflective glazes and raw surfaces, the contrasting feel of her artworks stands for the deeply subjective experiences which compose the spectrum of queerness – its diversity reflected in Babirye’s ranging colour palette, finishes and mediums.


Group presentation, SOUTH WEST BANK – International and Palestinian artists for Palestine

Paesaggio Umano, performance conceived by Emily Jacir and Andrea de Siena, part of Revolutionary Letter #7. Dar Jacir for Art and Research 2022

While Palestine does not have a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale and Foreigners in Their Homeland – The Palestine Museum US’ proposed exhibition for its Collateral Events section – was rejected by the Italian institution arguably due to its condemnation of the Israeli occupation, SOUTH WEST BANK – Landworks, Collective Action and Sound groups international and Palestinian artists, collectives and allies whose works came to life in and around the southern West Bank. The showcase, which is co-organised by Artists + Allies x Hebron and Bethlehem’s Dar Jacir for Art and Research, examines the notions of home, belonging and identity as they manifest themselves in the local topography, traditional practices as well as in a wide range of artistic expressions. Curated by Jonathan Turner, SOUTH WEST BANK emphasises the importance that natural landmarks such as Palestine’s multicentennial olive groves and the preservation of Native arts and crafts hold in relation to Israel’s ongoing erasure of Palestinian history, heritage and future. Focusing on process-based practices of 18 artists working across photography, film, writing, performance, sound and sculpture, the presentation aims to “reveal the strength and value of inventiveness, propositive thought and open research in the current climate”. 

Participating artists include Issa Amro, Samer Barbari, Adam Broomberg, Duncan Campbell, Rafael González, Isabella Hammad, Shayma Hammad, Chris Harding, Baha Hilo, Emily Jacir, Sebastián Jatz Rawicz, Benjamin Lind, Jumana Manna, Michael Rakowitz, Mohammad Saleh, Vivien Sansour, Andrea de Siena and Dima Srouji.

Carlos Casas, Bestiari – Catalonia

Carlos Casas, Bestiari (2024), Cadi National Park. Photo Courtesy the Artist © Carlos Casas

An investigation into the continuum between humanity and nature, Bestiari is a new project by filmmaker and artist Carlos Casas, curated by Filipa Ramos. Taking Anselm Turmeda’s seminal novel The Donkey’s Dispute (1417) – one of the earliest natural history compendiums, also serving as a pillar of Catalan literature – as its starting point, this audiovisual installation follows the story of a man tried by a group of animals who demand interspecies justice. Reminiscent of George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm (1945), Bestiari portrays humans as villains whose lack of judgement in environmental matters and self-ascribed superiority over other species have led them to compromise the balance of their own home, Earth. Through field recordings and 3D Ambisonics – a technological tool allowing you to place sound objects around you in a given environment – Casas creates an immersive space designed to heighten the sensory experiences of different animal specimens. Here, visitors will be presented with audio as well as visual representations of other creatures inhabiting the planet, including those who can’t be perceived by the naked eye. The goal is to promote more egalitarian interactions between the human and the natural sphere by fostering interspecies knowledge, connection and empathy.

Written by Gilda Bruno