Biennales and Post-Colonialism: Exhibiting Independence

By Renée DeVoe Mertz.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

If the rise of European and American museums in the 19th century marked that period’s obsession with progress, the proliferation of grand international shows in the form of biennials and triennials throughout the world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries underscore a recent concern with the basic concepts of identity and place within a ‘globalizing’ world. Biennials are springing up everywhere, particularly in previously colonized, marginalized, and/or politically tumultuous areas. These shows are self-consciously aware of place, highlighting the exhibition locale through visual, conceptual, and textual means. Yet, particularly as they become more established, they also invest in a broader internationalism, representing artists from around the world and publishing on global issues. Indeed, given the historical contexts of their births and sometimes blatant confessions of their organizers, biennials are in fact highly—often explicitly—political entities, and it is their willingness to reveal, if not revel in, this fact that distinguishes so many of them from the ideology of the 19th century museum.

As political conduits for both the host cities and the artists or nations represented within them, grand shows must be understood as mechanisms through which countries—particularly politically, culturally, or economically marginalized regions—help shape their relationships with the dominant parts of the world. Through a comparative examination of the Venice, Johannesburg, and Gwangju Biennales, this paper analyzes the socio-political role of the grand show in previously colonized countries, and discusses how they may serve as a means through which to break down the still prevalent Western/non-Western dichotomy.

Keywords: Biennales, Biennials, Colonialism, Post-colonial, International Festivals, Tourism, Venice, Italy, Johannesburg, South Africa, Gwangju (Kwangju), Korea

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, pp.169-182. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.991MB).

Ms. Renée DeVoe Mertz

Graduate Student and Teaching Assistant, Department of Art History, School of Art, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA


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