Staff writer and curator, Daria Kravchuk, attended the 60th Venice Biennale, titled “Foreigners Everywhere”. Here is her curated list of the top five national pavilions at the Biennale:

Austrian Pavilion

Anna Jermolaewa, a conceptual artist based in Vienna, Austria, showcases her artistic practice at the Austrian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale 2024. Her artistic practice comprises a wide spectrum of media: video, installation, painting, performance, photography, and sculpture. Anna Jermolaewa’s contribution at the Austrian Pavilion is seamlessly blending with the Biennale’s overarching theme, “Foreigners Everywhere.” This theme addresses issues of foreignness, migration, national identity, and cultural diversity, spotlighting artists with personal experiences of flight and migration.

Jermolaewa’s work offers keen observations on human coexistence, examining social conditions and political contexts. Among her notable pieces is “The Penultimate” (2017), a series of plants symbolising various “colour revolutions”—popular uprisings identified by colours or floral terms. This installation includes red carnations, roses, tulips, cornflowers, lotuses, saffron crocuses, jasmine, a cedar, and an orange tree, each representing a specific revolution. For instance, red carnations symbolise Portugal’s 1974 military coup against dictatorship, while Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution and Kyrgyzstan’s 2007 Tulip Revolution are also depicted. Other revolutions represented include Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution (2005), Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution (2010), Egypt’s Lotus Revolution (2011), Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2004), Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution (2007), and Belarus’ Cornflower Revolution (2006). These plants, presented as a still life, serve as poignant reminders of the power of popular uprisings and the fears they instil in undemocratic regimes.

Egyptian Pavilion

The artworks by the artist Wael Shawky, representing Egypt at the 60th Venice Biennale, are deeply rooted in research and travels within his native country. His works embrace a variety of techniques and media, including drawing, sculpture, film, performance, and storytelling. In the artist’s poetics, these techniques are often combined to create a fairy-tale yet real universe, in which elements of traditional Arabic culture and contemporary elements co-exist. His art reinterprets Middle Eastern cultural, religious, and artistic domains, creating fantastic realities that flourish in imaginary realms.

A master storyteller, Shawky uses historical and literary references as foundations for his immersive narratives, intertwining fable, fact, and fiction to explore themes of national, religious, and artistic identity. His work, based on extensive research, reframes contemporary culture through the prism of historical events and traditions. For the Egyptian Pavilion, Shawky presents “Drama 1882,” a filmed rendition of an original musical play that he directed, choreographed, and composed. This piece delves into Egypt’s Urabi Revolution against imperial influence (1879-82), a revolt crushed by the British in 1882, leading to their occupation of Egypt until 1956. Accompanying the film are vitrines, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and a mirror relief crafted in Murano, offering a comprehensive view of Shawky’s artistic vision.

Japan Pavilion

Yuko Mohri, an artist known for her installation and sculpture work, focuses on creating pieces that emphasise “events”—dynamic occurrences influenced by environmental conditions. Recently, she has expanded her exploration of this concept through video and photography. As a young artist, Mohri scoured Tokyo’s Akihabara district for affordable, often second-hand electrical materials to create her kinetic installations. Representing Japan at this year’s Venice Biennale, she has adopted a similar approach by sourcing materials from local Venetian shops. During her extended residency, she formed connections with local residents and shop owners, integrating the materials they provided into her site-specific installations.

One of her standout pieces is the large-scale kinetic sculpture “Moré Moré (Leaky),” composed of everyday objects such as plastic buckets, translucent hoses, and small pumps that move water from one location to another. These items were collected from local hardware shops, minimising the need for long-distance transportation. In her work “Decomposition,” Mohri explores the natural cycle of death and rebirth. She sourced overripe fruits from a local fruit grocer, which were no longer sellable. These fruits, as they further ripen and decay, are composted to be used in Giardini. Additionally, the furniture for “Decomposition” was sourced locally with the assistance of a local furniture restorer, and from local antique markets, discovered during Mohri’s explorations of various Venetian neighbourhoods.

Uzbekistan Pavilion

Aligned with the 60th International Venice Biennale’s theme, the Uzbekistan pavilion entitled “Don’t Miss the Cue” delves into issues of belonging and identity through the experiences of Central Asian women. The exhibition offers a nuanced perspective on how these women navigate and redefine themselves amidst migration with Uzbek artist Aziza Kadyri leading the project and featuring a collaboration with the Qizlar collective, a Tashkent-based group of female artists.

Upon entering the Pavilion in the Arsenale, visitors embark on a metaphorical journey involving participation and interaction with installations. The project invites them into a deconstructed theatre backstage, reminiscent of the Houses of Culture that dotted Eurasia in the early 20th century. This theatrical setting is animated by sculptures inspired by traditional costumes and textiles, enhanced by audiovisual materials by the Qizlar Collective. The exhibition foregrounds women’s stories, collective practices, and the intricate relationships between the physical body and the surrounding world. The exhibition reinterprets the characteristic Uzbek hand embroidery “suzani” through artificial intelligence, blending traditional craftsmanship with technology.

British Pavilion

John Akomfrah’s British Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale tackles pressing contemporary issues worldwide through the central theme of listening. This year’s monumental commission by the British artist, recently knighted in the 2023 UK Honours list, invites visitors to reimagine the British Pavilion’s 19th-century neoclassical building.

Titled “Listening All Night to the Rain,” the exhibition builds on Akomfrah’s four-decade-long exploration of memory, migration, racial injustice, and climate change, with a renewed emphasis on the act of listening and the sonic experience. Akomfrah addresses critical themes such as colonial legacies, diasporic identities, and environmental crises. This multi-layered exhibition examines how sonic experiences reflect and shape cultural realities. The installation combines newly filmed material with found images, videos, audio clips, and texts sourced from hundreds of international archives and libraries. The commission features eight multimedia and sound installations, each gallery space imbued with a specific colour field inspired by American artist Mark Rothko. This approach highlights how abstraction can convey the essence of human drama.