Art From Down Under Comes Out on Top – The 2024 Venice Biennale Lineup Unveiled 

Written by Harriet Maher

February 1, 2024

The announcement of the selected artists for the 2024 Venice Biennale has sent ripples of excitement throughout the global art community. As one of the most prestigious events in the art world, the Venice Biennale attracts attention from artists, critics, and art enthusiasts worldwide. This year’s lineup promises to be especially captivating, with an unprecedented total of 331 artists set to take part. The curator, Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa, has pulled together the mammoth list of participants under the banner of Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, in a show that aims to showcase a plethora of races, genders, and nationalities, all in service of “a celebration of the foreign, the distant, the outsider, the queer, as well as the indigenous.” In the spirit of diversifying the biennale’s offering, with particular focus on the Global South, four individual artists and one collective have been selected to represent Aotearoa New Zealand, offering a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage and artistic innovation. 

The Venice Biennale has long been celebrated for its ability to spotlight emerging and established artists, providing them with a platform to share their unique perspectives and narratives. For Aotearoa, a country renowned for its vibrant arts scene and cultural diversity, the inclusion of its artists in the Venice Biennale underscores the country’s growing influence and contribution to the global art landscape. 

Among the esteemed New Zealand artists chosen to participate in the 2024 Venice Biennale is Sandy Adsett (Ngāti Pahauwera), a revered figure in the country’s art community. Adsett’s work, characterised by its intricate designs and vibrant colors, draws inspiration from traditional Maori art forms and contemporary artistic practices. Through his striking paintings and sculptures, Adsett explores themes of identity, heritage, and cultural expression, inviting viewers to engage with the rich tapestry of Maori culture and history. 

Joining Adsett is Brett Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), a sculptor whose work grapples with issues of colonization, cultural identity, and indigenous rights. Known for his powerful installations and sculptures, Graham’s art confronts the legacies of colonialism and challenges viewers to reckon with the complexities of New Zealand’s history. Through his thought-provoking work, Graham seeks to amplify the voices of indigenous communities and advocate for social justice and reconciliation. 

Fred Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), another prominent figure in Aotearoa’s art scene and 96 years old at the time of the biennale, will bring his unique perspective and artistic vision to the Venice Biennale. Graham’s work, which spans painting, sculpture, and multimedia installations, reflects his deep connection to the land and his commitment to environmental stewardship. Through his art, Graham invites viewers to contemplate their relationship with the natural world and consider the urgent need for environmental conservation and sustainability. 

A picture of a Fred Graham Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture

The Mataaho Collective, a group of artists comprising wāhine Māori Erena Baker Arapere (Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangātira), Sarah Hudson (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Pūkeko), Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) and Terri Te Tau (Rangitāne ki Wairarapa), will bring a dynamic and interdisciplinary approach to the Venice Biennale. Mataaho Collective explores themes of cultural exchange, globalization, and social transformation through their innovative artworks and performances. With their bold experimentation and boundary-pushing creativity, the group challenges conventional notions of art and invites viewers to reimagine the possibilities of artistic expression. 

Rounding out the lineup of New Zealand artists is Selwyn Wilson (Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hine), one of the pioneering figures of Māori contemporary art in the 1950s and 1960s. Wilson’s raw, honest canvases capture the essence of his and his sitters’ spirits, while his ceramic works are strong and dynamic. His glazing techniques vary between lustrous surfaces and earthy tonalities. Through his mastery of colour and form, Wilson has come to be considered one of the founders of Māori modernism, with works that resonate with emotion and invite contemplation, offering a glimpse into the soul of Aotearoa’s indigenous people. 

The inclusion of these talented Māori artists in the 2024 Venice Biennale underscores New Zealand’s rich cultural heritage and its ongoing commitment to artistic excellence and innovation. From traditional art forms to contemporary multimedia installations, the works of these artists exemplify the diversity and vitality of New Zealand’s artistic landscape. Through their participation in the Biennale, they have the opportunity to share their stories, perspectives, and visions with a global audience, fostering dialogue, understanding, and connection across cultures and continents. 

Speaking to The Big Idea, Caren Rangi, Chair of the Arts Council said, “To have eight Ngā toi Māori artists invited and representing Aotearoa New Zealand at the 60th Venice Biennale will raise their profiles internationally and New Zealand’s at the most vibrant art event in the world.” Mataaho Collective added, “It feels comforting that a crew of rōpū Māori will be there. We’re really proud to be Māori during this time – coming up to Waitangi weekend and all the spicy things happening with the government in regard to the Treaty.  

“It feels really good that Māori art is heading to the world stage in a couple of months.” 

As the world eagerly awaits the opening of the 2024 Venice Biennale in April, the presence of Aotearoa artists promises to be a highlight of this prestigious event. Against the backdrop of Venice’s historic canals and majestic palazzos, the transformative power of art will take centre stage, inviting viewers on a journey of discovery, reflection, and inspiration. Through their bold, thought-provoking, and visionary work, these artists challenge us to see the world anew and imagine new possibilities for the future—a testament to the enduring power of art to inspire, provoke, and unite us all.

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