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Asian Pavilions at The Venice Biennale: Everything You Need To Know

ByGrace Ignacia See
Asian Pavilions at The Venice Biennale: Everything You Need To Know

Mark Justiniani's showcase at the Philippine Pavilion. Image courtesy of e-flux.

The Venice Biennale, also known as Biennale Arte and on many occasions the 'Olympics of art', has now opened. 91 countries have come together after months of preparation to showcase their respective artists and presentations to an international platform. For this 2019 edition, Ralph Rugoff, Curator of this Biennale and Director of the Hayward Gallery, London, has selected 79 artists and collaborative teams for its central exhibition. For the pavilions, each country makes its own selections, in theory with an eye to the theme of the Biennale.

For those visiting this big event on until November 2019, here are our top 5 tips: 

  1. Swap your swanky heels for comfortable sneakers - you'll be doing a lot of walking 
  2. You're probably not willing to splash out $80 euros for a single taxi (boat) ride. Consider the gondola ferry across the Grand Canal. It'll save your time, feet, and cash. 
  3. Never expect anyone to be on time, not even yourself. Getting across Venice could take hours, so plan less and allow yourself to drift through the exhibitions. 
  4. Always have an umbrella on you as Venetian weather is wildly unpredictable. 
  5. Let yourself get lost. Exhibitions outside of the Biennale are plenty, and you might chance upon one that you weren't planning on seeing. It's almost impossible to visit Venice without getting lost at least a handful of times, so why not just roll with it? 

For those interested in Asian art representation at this year's Venice Biennale, The Artling brings you this A-Z guide to what the Asian pavilions are showcasing: 



Bangladesh Pavilion. Image courtesy of Universes in Universe. 

  • Where: Palazzo Zenobio – Collegio Armeno Moorat-Raphael, Dorsoduro 2596
  • Who: Bishwajit Goswami, Dilara Begum Jolly, Heidi Fosli, Gazi Nafis Ahmed, Franco Marrocco, Domenico Pellegrino, Preema Nazia Andaleeb, Ra Kajol, Uttam Kumar Karmaker
  • Curated by: Mokhlesur Rahman, Viviana Vannucci
  • What: Thirst 

Nine Bangladeshi artists explore individually and collectively the theme of thirst amongst the people of Bangladesh. Here, it is not only a physical requirement but becomes an expression or metaphor of a thirst for life or knowledge. 



Chen Qi, The Born and Expansion

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Chen Qi, Fei Jun, He Xiangyu, Geng Xue
  • Curated by: Wu Hongliang
  • What: Re-睿 

The theme 'Re-睿' is the response of the Chinese Pavilion to the “interesting times” that we are already participating in. In the face of today’s new problems, we may need to gain insights from “Re” and “睿”. The curator Wu Hongliang hopes to present both virtual and real perspectives at the exhibition and provide a path for the viewers to return to their hearts. The exhibition hall is arranged like a long three-dimensional scroll of Chinese painting. The interesting point is that you cannot view the whole scroll at once. Wandering in the exhibition hall is like unfolding the scroll, with changing views and varying experiences for the spectators to sense with their hearts


Hong Kong

Shirley Tse's 'Negotiated Differences'. Image courtesy of West Kowloon. 

  • Where: Campo della Tana, Castello 2126, 30122, Venice, Italy (in front of Arsenale entrance)
  • Who: Shirley Tse
  • Curated by: Christina Li
  • What: Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice

The installation “Negotiated Differences” is a sprawling, rhizome-like installation of 3D-printed joints and hand-turned wooden forms that stretches across all the rooms of the indoor exhibition space. Balusters, handrails, bowling pins, and abstract forms are connected by wooden, metal, and plastic elements, bringing together craft, mechanical, and digital technologies into an integrated whole. The fluidity of form and function find a different expression in the courtyard presentation. Occupying the courtyard, “Playcourt” comprises of a sculptural mixture of equipment and anthropomorphic forms presented on tripods that draw the visitor’s gaze towards the sky. This installation transforms the cloister into an improvised badminton court and emphasizes the negotiation between people and space that is a fundamental component of play. 



GR Iranna at the Indian Pavilion. Image courtesy of FT. 

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Atul Dodiya, Ashim Purkayastha, GR Iranna, Jitish Kallat, Nandalal Bose, Rummana Hussain, Shakuntala Kulkarni.
  • Curated by: Roobina Karode
  • What: Our Time for a Future Caring

Our Time for a Future Caring’ focuses on the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and their uses in the world today. Curated by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, the presentation will feature paintings, sculptures, photography, and mixed-media works. Among the pieces that will be on view are Bose’s Haripura Panels, which were originally commissioned by Gandhi for the Indian National Congress Party meeting in 1938, and Kallat’s video installation Covering Letter, which features a missive from Gandhi to Hitler. Neither work has been shown in Europe before. 



 Handiwirman Saputra and Syagini Ratna Wulan at the Indonesian Pavilion. Image courtesy of the artists.

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Handiwirman Saputra and Syagini Ratna Wulan
  • Curated by: Enin Supriyanto 
  • What: Akal tak Sekali Datang, Runding tak Sekali Tiba (“Reason and Negotiation Never Come Just Once”)

This collaborative work includes 400 lockers with objects of significance to Indonesian heritage and culture, a Ferris wheel and a smoking room. Viewers can expect an immersive story, as the installation examines the practices of Indonesia’s contemporary art scene. Curator Enin Supriyanto is the Indonesian Pavilion’s artistic director for the second time.



'Of Being and Singing' at the Iran Pavilion

  • Where: Fondaco Marcello, San Marco 3415
  • Who: Reza Lavassani, Samira Alikhanzadeh, Ali Meer Azimi
  • What: Of Being and Singing

Of Being and Singing at the Biennale is all about respect and acknowledgment for national identity and life, amalgamated with artists' lives and memories. The Iranian pavilion represents a nation under sanctions, yet standing tall, remaining Iranian, as has been and still is forever and ever. The artists in this exhibition acknowledge Iran as a nation that despite sanctions is still there standing; they are there to represent its art and culture, all while “being and singing”.



  • Where: Ca’ del Duca, Corte del Duca Sforza, San Marco 3052
  • Who: Serwan Baran
  • Curated by: Tamara Chalabi, Paolo Colombo
  • What: Fatherland

For the first time, Iraq will be represented by a solo artist at the Biennale. Expect large-scale and site-specific works that invoke the feeling of a war zone upon entering, in line with Baran’s signature dark and atmospheric style. The exhibition will feature a monumental acrylic painting, The Last Meal, depicting a bird’s-eye view of soldiers killed during their last meal. Elements of collage will be incorporated, including objects from Iraqi military uniforms given to the artist by families of the deceased. These uniforms were collected from the Iran-Iraq War, the second Gulf War and the war with ISIS.



Aya Ben Ron's Field Hospital X at the Pavilion of Israel. Image courtesy of Artis. 

Where: Giardini
Who: Aya Ben Ron
Curated by: Avi Lubin
What: Field Hospital X

Field Hospital X (FHX) is a mobile, international institution, established by Aya Ben Ron. It is a unique organization that is committed to researching the way art can react and act in the face of social ills and corrupt values in society. Field Hospital X originated with the intention to create a safe space to screen No Body, a video by Ben Ron about abuse in the family. Learning from the structure and practice of hospitals, health maintenance organizations and healing resorts, FHX provides a space in which silenced voices can be heard and social injustices can be seen. While it is now at the Israeli Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, it will continue to travel to various sites around the world, to develop and expand. Field Hospital X (FHX)



Cosmo-Eggs at the Venice Biennale. Image courtesy of the Japan Pavilion. 

  • Where: Giardini
  • Who: Motoyuki Shitamichi, Taro Yasuno, Toshiaki Ishikura, Fuminori Nousaku
  • Curated by: Hiroyuki Hattori
  • What: Cosmo-Eggs

Cosmo-Eggs features works by four Japanese artists who are working in different specialties — artist, composer, anthropologist and architect. Set against the backdrop of the curator’s and artists’ interest in how and in what places we can survive, the exhibition explores various forms of coexistence of differences. This exhibition takes as its starting point the “tsunami boulders” that exist in various parts of the world. Through videos, documents, music, and spatial layout, it then explores the subject by layering the existence and acts of human beings with the spatiotemporal environment of the Earth.



Jane Jin Kaisen at the Korean Pavilion. Image courtesy of e-flux. 

  • Where: Giardini
  • Who: Hwayeon Nam, siren eun young jung, Jane Jin Kaisen.
  • Curated by: Hyunjin Kim
  • What: History Has Failed Us, but No Matter

What changes would emerge, if we revisited the solid strata demarking East Asia and its myths, and what would we discover if we approached these sites of modernization and nationalistic history through the lens of gender diversity? It is these vital questions that frame the exhibition History Has Failed Us, but No Matter organized for the Korean Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, showcasing the work of three women artists: siren eun young jung,  Jane Jin Kaisen, and Hwayeon Nam. Each artist approaches these questions through a rubric of research, developing their practices using critical reflection based on a strong gender consciousness as they delve into both the present and parse the history surrounding the modernization of Korea and East Asia.



The Malaysian Pavilion. Image courtesy of Lifestyle Asia. 

  • Where: Palazzo Malipiero, San Marco 3198
  • Who: Anurendra Jegadeva, H.H.Lim, Ivan Lam, Zulkifli Yusoff
  • Curated by: Lim Wei-Ling
  • What: Holding Up a Mirror

Malaysia participates at the Venice Biennale for the very first time with ‘Holding Up a Mirror’. This exhibition celebrates the beauty and complexity of Malaysian culture and its recently renewed cultural identity and transformation. Together, the works at the National Pavilion of Malaysia represent an inquiry around self when perceived against a wider framework of the collective. They demonstrate that identity is heterogeneous and in constant flux; it is a weave of many personal narratives into a shared fabric of public consciousness that is at once diverse and unified.



Naiza Khan at the Pakistan Pavilion. Image courtesy of Riccardo Tosetto Photography. 

  • Where: Tanarte, Castello 2109/A and Spazio Tana, Castello 2110-2111
  • Who: Naiza Khan
  • Curated by: Zahra Khan
  • What: Manora Field Notes

For Manora Field Notes, Khan has drawn upon her prolific archive of images, objects, and observations recording the evolution of Manora Island, a peninsula located off the harbor of Karachi. The exhibition will investigate how the reshaping of the island landscape reflects wider changes across the region and conveys larger concerns of post-colonial histories, climate change, and displacement. This exhibition features a soundscape, sculptural works, and a multi-channel film installation and will expand across three interconnected spaces within the pavilion.



Mark O. Justiniani at the Philippine Pavilion. Image courtesy of e-flux. 

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Mark O. Justiniani
  • Curated by: Tessa Maria T. Guazon
  • What: Island Weather

The Philippine Pavilion will be configured like an archipelago, with three islands of steel, mirror and glass. Arkipelago is the most ambitious in Justiniani’s Infinity Series. The darkened exhibition spaces that house these works reveal realms underlying a world of familiar outlines. These are places where objects appear through heightened perception and endless replication. While appearing spectacular or magical, there is a felt precarity to these constructions. Everything appears to float in liquid light while the body dissolves in darkness, seemingly disintegrating because it walks on glass, a material given to breaking.


Saudi Arabia

Zahrah Al Ghamdi at the Saudi Arabia Pavilion. Image courtesy of Arab News. 

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Zahrah Al Ghamdi
  • Curated by: Eiman Elgibreen
  • What: After Illusion بعد توهم 

Saudi Arabia returns to the Venice Biennale after an either-year absence with ‘After Illusion بعد توهم ‘. Born in the Hijaz city of Al-Baha in 1977, Al-Ghamdi works with and will present natural materials such as sand, clay, and leather to “reflect the memory of past traditional architecture of southwest Saudi Arabia and to explore this memory with an emphasis on poetics,”. 



Music For Everyone: Variations on a Theme by Song-Ming Ang at the Singapore Pavilion. Image courtesy of the artist. 

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Song-Ming Ang
  • Curated by: Michelle Ho
  • What: Music For Everyone: Variations on a Theme

Song-Ming Ang’s presentation, Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme, explores the myriad of ways people relate to music, on a personal and societal level, and how music can affect a sense of agency. The presentation for the Biennale takes reference from a series of music concerts, titled Music for Everyone, organized in the 1970s by then-Ministry of Culture of Singapore, to promote Western classical music education and appreciation, and to foster a sense of national identity. Expect a multidisciplinary showcase of film, sculpture collage and textiles. 



3x3x6 by Shu Lea Cheang at the Taiwan Pavilion. Image courtesy of Hyperallergic. 

  • Where: Castello 4209, Palazzo delle Prigioni, 30122 
  • Who: Shu Lea Cheang
  • Curated by: Paul B. Preciado
  • What: 3x3x6

For Taiwan’s collateral presentation Cheang has created a new work inspired by the history of the exhibition venue, Palazzo delle Prigioni, which first served as a prison in the sixteenth century. The work’s title refers to today’s standardized architecture of industrial imprisonment: a 3 x 3 square-meter cell constantly monitored by 6 cameras. 3x3x6 thus speaks to the realities of the prison, constructed both physically and by the presence of digital surveillance mechanisms. The exhibition works with ten historical and contemporary case studies of individuals who have been outcasted or incarcerated due to reasons of gender variance, sexual preference, or racial differences.



Somsak Chowtadapong, Panya Vijinthanasarn, Krit Ngamsom at the Thailand Pavilion. Image courtesy of Fine Art Magazine. 

  • Where: In Paradiso 1260, Castello
  • Who: Somsak Chowtadapong, Panya Vijinthanasarn, Krit Ngamsom
  • Curated by: Tawatchai Somkong
  • What: The Revolving World

Artists Panya Vijinthanasarn, Somsak Chowtadapong, and Krit Ngamsom bring to Venice the stories, truth, and history related to the Kingdom of Thailand and its social and cultural context, a contemporary interpretation of the three aforementioned creations. At its base are the social and cultural contexts, national discourse and dynamics of the relationship between Thailand and other countries. 



İnci Eviner at the Turkey Pavilion. Images courtesy of the artist. 

Where: Arsenale
Who: İnci Eviner
Curated by: Zeynep Öz
What: We, Elsewhere

'We, Elsewhere' is created as a site-specific installation that makes use of elements such as reconfigured objects as well as drawings, video, sound, and performance. It is an investigation into the spaces that we create, and are created for us as a result of collective displacement. The exhibition ruminates on how subjects who find themselves in these spaces react and interact with one another and with their memories. Various elements of sound, reconfigured objects and characters crafted by Eviner evoke the sense of a search for the missing, the erased and that which is elsewhere. 


United Arab Emirates 

Nujoom Alghanem at the UAE Pavilion. Image courtesy the artist. 

  • Where: Arsenale
  • Who: Nujoom Alghanem
  • Curated by: Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath
  • What: Nujoom Alghanem: Passage 

'Passage' is an immersive, 26-minute, two-channel video and 12-channel sound installation by poet, filmmaker, and artist Nujoom Alghanem. Filmed in the UAE and in Venice, the site-specific work has been conceived and developed in close collaboration with the Pavilion curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. The experience of passage and duality also permeates the design of the exhibition space, where visitors can enter and exit from either side of the Pavilion. A large 3 x 6-meter screen, diagonally positioned at the center, divides the space into two symmetrical halves. The viewers are invited to engage both with Nujoom and Amal's real process of creating the film, as well as with the cinematographic portrayal of the fictional character of Falak.


To find out more about the 58th Venice Biennale, click here

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