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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Venice Biennale: Lin Rihawi from the Grenada Pavilion

Lin Rihawi exploring Venice (Courtesy: Lin Rihawi)
Lin Rihawi exploring Venice (Courtesy: Lin Rihawi)

As the months of the Venice Biennale march on, the international art world calendar picks up and people are busy exploring different things. However, we mustn’t forget that the art exhibition lasts for six months and every nation is still in the midst of displaying their best art work in the Italian city on the water. At the UAE’s national pavilion, the internship programme continues with a group of UAE nationals and long term residents each spending one month in Venice, manning the pavilion and taking the time to explore. For The Art Blog, we asked those interns to bring us on the ground reports from another national pavilion so that even those not in Venice for the big show, can benefit from the eyes of those who are.

Today Lin Rihawi, a Syrian architect living in Sharjah, who designs pop-up shops and likes to do water-colour painting and capoeira in her free time, brings us her experiences from the Grenada Pavilion:

“Do you like being a cocoa farmer?” Asher Mains asks one of the subjects in his Cocoa Farmers Portrait project; in it he paints portraits of cocoa farmers and hands them the portraits while filming them for a short documentary. It is a hard question to answer, considering the fact that this is what some of them have been doing their entire lives. One of the portraits is displayed next to the film, the lady in it has a kind smile, and she sits confident and proud. A contradiction to the wearisome hard work she has to do on a grinding and daily basis. Facing the film is another painting by Carmine Ciccarini; she paints two women chit-chatting over coffee in a coffee shop; a casual relaxing urban activity, and a complete contradiction to the facing artwork, almost mocking it, forcing the viewer question the simple act of getting a coffee and making it seem so inconsiderate.

The Grenada Pavilion is set up this way, to provoke the visitor; you are forced to question your own stance against very real chaotic topics that don’t exist in your daily life. When you approach the pavilion, before entering the space, there’s an installation by Susan Mains, inspired by the recent terror attacks on children, she lays clothes on the ground, representing dead bodies and surrounds them with flowers. They will remain for the duration of the biennale and decompose as time goes by. The visitor is struck by that installation first, and has no choice but to really think about the disorderly world others live in. At the centre of the show is a large Mickey Mouse sculpture by Giuseppe Linardi and next to that are scattered paintings, representing toy boxes. Children also suffer here, they are forced to grow up fast and live in a very unruly environment.

The exhibition is titled Present Nearness and is curated by Susan Mains and Francesco Elysees. For the past 41 years Grenada has struggled through independence, a failed revolution, invasion/intervention by a world power, and crippling natural disasters. Offering no simple solutions, with great empathy, these artists present an inward and outward, and hopeful gaze on this disordered world. The pavilion is smaller and quieter compared to the others, it is coy but with a strong message. The artists involved worked with different mediums and themes. The artists are Maria McClafferty, Oliver Benoit, Asher Mains, Susan Mains, Asher Mains, Francesco Bosso and Giuseppe Linardi. Three of the artists involved are Italian, identifying art as international, and empathetic without the geographical boundaries that the pavilions naturally imply.

* Lin Rihawi is a foodie and a traveler, she explored Venice by getting lost in it. Keep up with her on Instagram on @veniceinterns as well as on her personal account: @leenlr and on hashtags #veniceinterns and @uaeinvenice.