Palestine is everywhere at this year's Venice Biennale

Palestine is everywhere at this year's Venice Biennale

In addition to the controversy surrounding the closed Israeli pavilion, we look at three exhibitions representing different facets of Palestine at the 2024 Venice Biennale

A series of black and white illustrations on translucent paper hang in front of a large window in a central room of the Palazzo Mora in Venice. Each illustration represents angular, geometric and expressionistic bodies curled in on themselves in the narrow space of the page, almost trying to escape its edges, but failing. On the black background, bombed buildings, rubble or a dark sky with a lonely moon.

This work is by Gaza artist Maisara Baroud, in the exhibition “Foreigners in Their Homeland”, organized by the US Palestine Museum. The artist literally tore pages from his sketchbook to reproduce them on these translucent papers for visitors to the Venice Biennale. The choice of this role is, in itself, a strong metaphor: between the spectator in the room and the external reality, there is a filter made of images of Gaza, which even the happiest visitor to the Biennale, who came only for the aperitifs in the channels and parties at art foundations, you must recognize.

“The artist made 120 drawings in his A4 sketchbook, and some of them are just three weeks old,” says Faisal Saleh, director of the US Palestine Museum. “He made almost one a day, like a diary of what has been happening in Gaza.”
Since the genocide began, we have observed different attitudes towards it in the art world. Early on, as protesters marched in the streets, many institutions canceled exhibitions of Palestinian artists, such as a retrospective of celebrated Palestinian artist Samia Halaby at Indiana University's Eskenazi Museum.

As the months passed, more and more voices of protest were raised in the art world, which in turn fueled expectations about what would happen at the Venice Biennale, the quintessential chessboard of art politics.

The conversation began when the aforementioned exhibition “Foreigners in Their Homeland” was rejected by the Venice Biennale as a collateral event, and Faisal Saleh started a petition to have it approved. In the meantime, another exhibition documenting the destruction of olive trees in Palestine by the Israelis – initially titled “Anchor in the Landscape” – was approved as a collateral event. Initially, the exhibition featured the work of South African photographer Adam Broomberg, whose photographs are taken with Rafael Gonzalez, and was held with the association Art + Allies Hebron, an NGO run by Issa Amro, based in H2.

Then, as the war continued, a new petition to exclude the Israeli pavilion from Venice was started, created by the Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA), which gathered almost 24,000 signatories. The association has been very present in Venice, organizing protests and presentations throughout the city.

Last week, as the Biennale opened for its preview days, the entire art world couldn't wait to see what would happen.

The Israeli pavilion

What we found plastered on the glass walls of the Israel Pavilion in the Giardini was a poster saying that the artist and curators of the pavilion will not open until “a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached.”

The artist told the New York Times that the Israeli government had not been informed about the decision to close the exhibition. What appeared to be a rebellion by the artist against the Israeli government was initially greeted positively by part of the artistic community: “At least a little humanity”, wrote a curator who had already spoken out extensively about the massacre in Gaza. But, of course, it was more complicated than that.

The Israeli pavilion at Palazzo Mora [Naima Morelli]

The pavilion was closed, yes, but its transparent walls created even more curiosity about the exhibition visible inside. Italian police closely guarded the pavilion, discouraging protesters from trying to approach or write on the building's walls.
Meanwhile, some media outlets called the act of closing the pavilion “performative” and the attitude of artist Ruth Patir and curators Mira Lapidot and Tamar Margalit opportunistic and cynical. Others highlighted that there was no clear mention of the genocide, but rather an emphasis on the hostage situation.

The Venice Biennale and Palestine
“I think it's a media ploy,” says Faisal Saleh of the US Palestine Museum when asked to comment on the Israeli pavilion. “They didn’t really want to close. They want to hold him temporarily until they recover their hostages.”

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