With ‘Alasiri’, Alatise Articulates an Allegory of Alienation at Venice Biennale Architettura

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At 17th Venice Biennale Architettura, Nigeria’s leading artist Peju Alatise makes history as the first female artist from Nigeria with ‘Alasiri’- her sculptural installation of doors and figures that bears global resonance. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

When Nigeria made its debut in 2017 at 57th edition of the prestigious international exhibition, Venice Biennale, Peju Alatise- a leading interdisciplinary artist- was one of the three-artist team, which included Victor Ehikhamenor and Qudus Onikeku, that represented Nigeria.

Last weekend, Alatise made yet another historical feat as the first female Nigerian artist to participate at the Venice Biennale Architettura. The rare opportunity came knocking at first in March 2020 but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the grand show was postponed till 2021. With the theme, “How will we live together?”, the international exhibition which runs from May 22 to November 21, 2021 assembles architects, scholars, artists and other professionals from around the world with 112 participants from 46 countries.

Alatise features in the category “Among Diverse Beings” at the prestigious global exhibition, curated by Hashim Sarkis. Trained as an architect at the Ladoke Akintola University, Oyo before pursuing a full-time career in the arts, Alatise’s career in the arts spans over two decades; a path paved with awards and recognitions. She is a fellow at the National Museum of African Art, a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Alasiri, her site-specific submission at Venice Biennale, is a sculptural installation of doors and figures that allows for mutual understanding or otherwise to take place. She described it as a ‘secret keeper that allows you to simultaneously experience being an outsider and insider.’’

While reflecting on the theme of the international exhibition, Alatise said: “This is a poignant question made more complex by the current Covid-19 crisis that the whole world is experiencing at the moment. The answer begs for moral inclusion that I feel architecture alone cannot give. The Yorubas from west Africa say ‘Yara rebete gba oju omo’kunrin ti won ba fera den’u which means a small room can inhabit 20 young men if they have a deeper understanding for one another. They also say ‘Eniyan ribi ilekun, ti o ba gba e laye ati wole, o ti di alasiri’ meaning people are like doors; if they permit you entry, you become their keeper of secrets. This time last year, there were voices of populist ideas of people who want to break up countries with nationalist views. Now, the Covid-19 has given us a taste of what it will feel like to live alone.’’

Alatise questioned the possibility of isolation in a high globalized world. Religion, culture, ideology and identity may constitute points of divergence, but our collective humanity is non-negotiable.

Born in 1975 in Lagos Nigeria, Alatise is a multidisciplinary artist who paints, sculpts, and expresses ideas through mixed media installations. Her works reflects Afro-modern ethos, Yoruba cosmology and religion.

The President of Venice Architecture Biennale, Kazuyo Sejima in his opening remarks at the inauguration commended the spirit of collaboration among the participants.

“Everything that has happened and will happen in the next few days is a s a result of the collaboration of Biennale local and national authorities that have made it possible for the biennial staff and visitors to arrive here in full safety and security.

“The collaboration between the curators and architects who have been here since the beginning of the year who have let us understand that it was possible to have installations here,’’ he said.

The Spanish architect and scholar, Rafael Moneo has received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at this edition of the Venice Biennale.