The Venice Biennale: A Surrealist Tribute to Reality
Image courtesy of Biennale Arte 2022

Through touching upon themes of gender, race and the environment, the Venice Biennale proves how art has become an avant-garde force for tackling society’s long-standing issues.

By Lucy Hasani,

This year The Venice Biennale returned after a brief hiatus to once again become the beating heart of the creative community. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, The Milk of Dreams exhibition was brought to life through an array of surrealist works that celebrate transformation and initiate positive change.

Its return creates conversation around the pandemic and a period of great disruption, however the exhibition juxtaposes itself against this through being a place of communion where people once again have the freedom to meet, travel and create meaningful relationships.

The Milk of Dreams takes its name from a book by Leonara Carrington which delves into the human journey of transformation and connections between one another and the environment. Despite being narrated through an imaginary setting, the themes that Carrington touches upon have become more relevant than ever. With the idea of progress at the forefront of the exhibition, Carrington made the decision to feature a vast majority of female artists. This vision was proposed with the intention to uplift female artists and shed light on stories that may have been overshadowed by hierarchies in the industry.

One artist that made a name for herself was Simone Leigh with her installation Brick House, a 16 foot bronze bust of a black woman. Leigh’s inspiration is derived from many sources, one being the Batammaliba culture in which the shape of her body is referencing the designs of a West African house. In this way her work appeals to the theme of the Biennale as she focuses on the interconnected relationship between humans and environment. Through this she directly pays tribute to the strength and integrity of black women through the historical lens of viewing their bodies as functions to society.

Brick House by Simone Leigh. Image courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia, all rights reserved, © 2022

Another female pioneer who is shaping a new generation of art is Sonia Boyce. With her experimental video installation, Feeling Her Way, she brings together five black female musicians giving them the opportunity to improvise and unite their voices to create something larger. Generating feelings of freedom and vulnerability, her sonic work creates an unspoken understanding of collaboration in a new society as a means to achieving something more significant. This key practice to her work remains the same across all mediums, to encourage new forms of social interaction that challenge preconceived ideas of difference between one another.

‘Feeling Her Way’ by Sonia Boyce. Image courtesy of British Council, all rights reserved, © 2022

A female artist of our own that we feel resonated with this year’s Venice Biennale is Zahra Holm. Redolent of her time in France, her work Des paysages dans la tête provides a visual portrayal of her desire to reconnect with the environment. After facing a seemingly eternal hibernation, this is something we can all relate to, dreaming about landscapes which we could only connect with through the fantasies of our minds. Zahra’s paintings work to represent an end to this dissonance, and in her own words emphasize how “these landscapes live with us, are part of us, our body and soul”.

‘Des Paysages Dans La Tête 3’ by Zahra Holm. Image courtesy of the Artist, all rights reserved, © 2022

The Milk of Dreams exhibition not only brought attention to the concerns of a modern world, such as social, political and environmental themes, but fostered our need to re-engage with such issues. It helped recognize art as a way of collaborating with one another to challenge bigger problems, not only through the art work but the framework of the exhibition itself, granting the industry a new sense of importance. We hope to see a new generation of art grow from this, one which is able to take the metaphorical image of transformation and turn it into tangible change.

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