Haiti’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale: anachronism or illuminating opportunity?

Wendy Asquith


A barrage of criticism has been levelled against the Venice Biennale’s national pavilion structure in recent decades, chiefly accusing it of anachronism on account of its western biases. Yet the tide has begun to turn, making much of this criticism sound a little worn-out. As this event increasingly attracts debuting ‘non-western’ national exhibitors each year, its pavilion structure event is beginning to be reassessed. Haiti was one such debutant at the 54th edition of La Biennale di Venezia held in 2011. This article will explore in detail the debates raised by Haiti’s national pavilion, particularly as they related to the central exhibition theme of ILLUMInations selected by the International Art Exhibition Director for 2011, Bice Curiger. In doing so this piece will consider both: how the national pavilion structure at the Venice Biennale was challenged, and our wider understanding of it deepened, by Haiti’s participation; and what Venice’s national pavilion structure might be able to offer a post-colonial, ‘third-world’ nation like Haiti.

Keywords: pavilion, Haiti, Venice Biennale, nationhood, ILLUMInations, postcolonialism.

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DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2013w11wa

Biographical note

Wendy Asquith is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool and an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Holder with Tate Liverpool for the project: Haiti in Art: Creating and Curating in the Black Atlantic. Her research focuses on the exhibition of Haitian art from the late nineteenth century through to the contemporary moment, with a particular focus on postcolonial identities in a global context.