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Biennale visa denials “can not become the defining story of this exhibition”


Venice Architecture Biennale curator Lesley Lokko has criticised the decision by Italian authorities to deny visas to three members of her Ghana-based team at the opening press conference for the event.

Speaking at the press conference to mark the start of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, Lokko described the decision as the “ugly rear” of Italian immigration policy, but said that it should “not become the defining story” of the biennale.

Lokko thanked the biennale team, donors and her team of curatorial assistants who are the “essential lifeblood of the exhibition”. However, she drew attention to the fact that three of her curatorial assistants were not able to travel to Italy.

“There are reasonable doubts as to your intention to leave the territory”

“Not all teams are equal,” she said.

“The rejection document from the Italian Embassy in Accra states ‘there are reasonable doubts as to your intention to leave the territory, or state, before the expiry of your visa’,” she continued. “No explanation has been given to what the doubts were, reasonable or otherwise.”

Lokko then criticised the decision and the response to it by the Italian ambassador to Ghana.

“In a press release in response to journalists seeking clarification on the issue, the Italian ambassador to Ghana wrote: ‘Our embassy is deeply committed to promote collaboration with Ghana in all sectors, including the cultural one. And we spare no efforts to facilitate the participation of any artist to take part in exhibitions, or events scheduled in Italy, where we are at the forefront of policies to promote African cultural heritage as tangible and intangible’,” explained Lokko.

“This is not the forefront of policy,” she responded. “This is its ugly rear.”

“For the moment, this is a headline story”

Lokko acknowledged that “much will be said about the fate of three young Ghanian men”, but stated that the decision stressed the importance of artists and designers continuing their work.

“For the moment, this is a headline story, but it cannot become the defining story of this exhibition,” she said. “That’s too easy, too predictable, too cheap.”

“This is not a new story. It’s an old and familiar tale, if not to many in this audience then to the global majority who are not here.”

“There are participants in this show who understand that this is precisely the time to go to work. Over the coming months, thoughtfully, intelligently, carefully, participants will use the platform of this exhibition to work together, to address the complex questions that have been raised,” she continued.

This year’s Venice Architecture Biennale is being curated by Lokko, who is the first person of African descent to have curated the event, which is the most significant event in the architectural calendar.

Lokko has aimed to place Africa at the centre of the biennale for the first time. Speaking to Dezeen in an exclusive interview, she said that the continent was a “powerful place from which to examine the issues that will dominate the next century”.

“For this exhibition, two keywords shaped practitioners’ responses: decarbonisation and decolonisation,” she added.

The photography is by Tom Ravenscroft.

Dezeen is live reporting from the Venice Architecture Biennale, which takes place from 20 May to 26 November 2023. See Dezeen Events Guide for all the latest information you need to know to attend the event, as well as a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.


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