The Republic of Benin will stage a national pavilion for the first time at the Sixtieth Venice Biennale, to take place April 20–November 24, 2024. The West African country’s government revealed that the pavilion will be curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founder and director of the Lagos-based nonprofit African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), with the assistance of Yassine Lassissi, artistic director of Lagos’s La Galerie Nationale du Bénin, and architect Franck Houndégla. Playwright José Pliya, the general director of La Galerie Nationale, will commission the pavilion.
“We are delighted to have Azu Nwagbogu as the curator of the Benin National Pavilion,” said Patrice Talon, president of the Republic of Benin, in a statement. Talon headed the pavilion’s joint selection committee, which comprised the country’s minister of tourism, culture, and arts, as well as members of the National Gallery of Benin. “His unique background, vision and expertise in the field of art curation makes him the perfect candidate to showcase Benin’s cultural heritage and contemporary art to the world.”
The Lagos-born Nwagbogu established the AAF in 2007 with the aim of elevating contemporary artists and arts. From 2018 to 2019, he served as director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. Nwagbogu is known as a tireless advocate for restitution and repatriation; his goals on this front closely align with those of Talon, who since his 2016 election has prioritized repatriation. The nation’s government in 2021 reached an accord with France for latter country to return twenty-six objects looted by its army over a hundred years ago.
Benin is the latest African nation to mount a pavilion at the Biennale. Though the continent was vastly underrepresented in earlier iterations of the event, the number of African pavilions has increased from seven in 2017 to twelve this year, with the addition of Benin.