At the Venice Architecture Biennale, Africa in majesty

Visitors walk past the

Since its first edition, in 1980, which, under the title “The Presence of the Past”, opened the way to postmodernism in Europe, the Venice Architecture Biennale has always presented itself as an invitation to introspection. In the places laden with history where it unfolds, between the halls of the Arsenal and the pavilions of the Giardini, the celebration of the discipline and its valiant representatives goes hand in hand with a form of self-criticism and an aspiration to renewal. The exercise is perilous, and the pitfalls numerous: gigantic spaces, often inexperienced commissioners, overwhelmed by the scale of the mission, when they do not conceive of it as a pure exercise in diplomacy, architects who take themselves for artists or academics … But Lesley Lokko, the curator of this eighteenth edition, which opened on Saturday May 20, avoided them. She even pulls it off with panache.

Read the picture: Article reserved for our subscribers At the Venice Biennale, Lesley Lokko invites the architecture of the future

Ghanaian and Scottish for civil status, this activist at heart, who stacks the hats of architect, teacher and writer, seized the opportunity offered to her to mount this major exhibition, the most prestigious of the discipline on a global scale, to bring to the fore a sovereign Africa, haloed with glory. This continent, to which the history of the discipline, firmly anchored in Greco-Roman antiquity, has never sought to connect, to which the environment has never conceded more than a folding seat – the geopolitical order of The Venice Biennale gives it a good measure of this, which grants it two national pavilions (for Niger and South Africa) out of the sixty-four it hosts, and whose public, as the curator noted, from the day of the presentation to the press, is almost exclusively white –, is therefore the star of the event.

This is not the subject. Under the title “The Laboratory of the Future”, the exhibition aims to explore from architecture the ways of a more breathable future, which Lesley Lokko would like “decarbonized and decolonized”. Insofar as “the black body has long been the first source of energy”, the two notions are, according to her, intimately intertwined. It is for this reason that Africa is celebrated. Not only to repair the offenses that have been done to it throughout history and those that it continues to suffer in the present, but so that we know it. Because a carbon-free and decolonized future cannot be invented without it. As long as Africa does not occupy the place that is rightfully its, given the size of its territory and its population, but also its history and its culture, the traces of which colonization has largely erased but that the artists, researchers, architects are working today to exhume, the announced program will remain a wishful thinking.

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