Celebrating diversity: the 35th São Paulo Biennial
This year São Paulo Biennial edition, titled 'choreographies of the impossible,' marks a groundbreaking moment as the first time the biennial is led by a group of Black-majority curators. In the spirit of dismantling established narratives, the curatorial team strives to build new imaginaries. The themes explored in the exhibition resonate with contemporary concerns, from environmental sustainability to decolonization and gender equality.
The curatorial team. Courtesy Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.
On display until December 10, 2023, the 35th São Paulo Biennial represents the main event in contemporary art for the Global South—and the second oldest in the world, after the Venice Biennale.
This year’s edition, titled 'choreographies of the impossible', serves as an invitation to delve into radical imagination about the unknown, or even about the impossible, and it celebrates the wisdom of non-Western traditions. It is the first time the 72-year-old biennial, the biggest art event in a Black-majority country, has been led by a group of Black-majority curators: curator Diane Lima, anthropologist and art researcher Hélio Menezes, both Brazilians; and Portuguese artist and theorist Grada Kilomba. All three are of African descent. The fourth in discord is Manuel Borja-Villel, in his first project since leaving the direction of the Museo Reina Sofía in January.
The exhibition aims to present an alternative history of 20th and 21st-century art, diverting attention from Western hegemony to celebrate overlooked traditions like indigenous cultures, the African diaspora in Latin America, as well as influences from the Arab world and the Asian continent.
The curatorial team explained how they rejected the creation of a counter-image, but they rather sought to abandon discourses that have been "imposed on us as universal narratives." While acknowledging the impossibility of a tabula rasa, the team believes that ignoring the hegemonic model is essential to constructing new imaginaries. The biennial challenge the Western concept of time as linear progress, embracing the temporality of indigenous peoples. The term "choreography" is employed to highlight the practice of mapping movements through time and space, generating new forms, images, and possibilities. They are interested in the rhythms, tools, strategies and technologies, as well as all the symbolic, economic and legal procedures that extradisciplinary knowledge is capable of promoting, thus producing flight, denial and its poetic exercises. As a curatorial proposal, choreographies of the impossible enunciates a space for experimentation - open to dances of the unimaginable - that embodies movements capable of transforming the apparently non-existent into the existing.
In contrast to Venice, the São Paulo Biennial abandoned national pavilions long ago, critiquing their colonial undertones. The curators stress a focus beyond individual nationalities, recognising that the very concept may be rooted in colonial and outdated classifications. Embracing diverse disciplines like film, dance, and music, the biennial creates a dynamic choreography, inviting everyone to move freely. The identified themes delve into crucial contemporary concerns, including social justice, environmental sustainability, decolonization, gender equality, and the reimagining of political systems.
35th São Paulo Bienal – Choreographies of the Impossible
6 September to December 10, 2023
Open to the public: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, from 10am to 7pm. Thursdays and Saturdays, from 10 am to 9 pm.