The British Pavilion curators, artists and commissioner have been awarded a Special Mention for National Participation at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the British Council has announced.
The British Council’s Director of Architecture Design and Fashion, Sevra Davis, and a selection panel of leading architecture professionals, commissioned the curators Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham in 2021 through an open call which called for radically new ideas for the British Pavilion at the Architettura Biennale 2023.
Dancing Before the Moon features architectural-scale artworks by artists Yussef Agbo-Ola, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett, Madhav Kidao and Sandra Poulson, and a new film, with soundtrack devised by Oscar #Worldpeace and Fredwave. It explores how diaspora community rituals and cultural practices impact built space and how they can shape the future of UK architecture.
The British Pavilion received a Special Mention from the jury ‘for the curatorial strategy and design propositions celebrating the potency of everyday rituals as forms of resistance and spatial practices in diasporic communities’.
Through the lens of South Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas in Britain, the exhibition demonstrates the need for architecture to look beyond buildings and economic structures and towards everyday social practices, customs and traditions to meaningfully reflect how people use and establish space.
Curators Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham said: “We are grateful that such an esteemed jury has recognised our exhibition ‘Dancing Before the Moon’. As curators, we want to use this time to acknowledge the collective effort of this exhibition. Many hands and minds made this pavilion - we would like to thank Yussef Agbo-Ola, Madhav Kidao, Sandra Poulson, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett, Sakky Barnor, Guldem Massa, Oscar #worldpeace, Fredwave, denike Oke, Makkan Singh, Hark1karan (Harkaran Singh), Gundeep Singh, Jason Wallis and Issi Nanabeyin.
“Our ambition was to make the British Pavilion a generous and uplifting place that reflects how a sentiment of care for people, materials and spaces can hold clues for how to build a better world - we hope in some way to have achieved that.”
The British Pavilion was most recently presented with a Special Mention in 2018 for ISLAND, developed by Caruso St John and artist Marcus Taylor. The last major award for Great Britain at the Biennale Architettura was in 2006, when late architect Richard Rogers received a lifetime achievement award.
Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design and Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion said: “The British Council, curators and artists are overjoyed at the positive response we have received for Dancing Before the Moon, which has been praised by visitors as being at once thought-provoking, confident and uplifting. I am proud of and inspired by the work of this year’s exhibition, which encourages us to reflect on contemporary architecture and to think about how a diversity of voices can help us to create more inclusive and vibrant places.
“This Special Mention for Dancing Before the Moon acknowledges the unique vision and immense energy which the artists and curators brought to the Biennale Architettura this year. To win this prestigious award is a huge honour for the British Council and we are incredibly grateful to receive this accolade for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition.”
Also receiving a Special Mention was Zimbabwe-born designer Thandi Loewenson, who presented The Uhuru Catalogues in the Central Pavilion, supported through a British Council Architecture Design Fashion grant.
The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture. A panel of leading architecture professionals, from across the UK selected the curators for the Architettura Biennale 2023.
Dancing Before the Moon, A British Council Commission for the British Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura, Venice runs from 20 May to 26 November 2023: venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org
Dancing Before the Moon:
“There is a reason, after all, that some people wish to colonize the moon, and others dance before it as an ancient friend.” James Baldwin
About the exhibition title, the curators said: “In many countries, the moon is celebrated as a symbol of life. To us, the quote reflects a longing and appreciation for global rituals and everyday practices that demonstrate an appreciation of soil and the cosmos. It proposes an alternative way of considering collective relationships to land and geography, and how communities come together to hold space through making and social practices. Importantly it speaks to both the past and the future.”
Full press pack, including images and further details about the installations and film:https://bit.ly/Venice2023
For media enquiries regarding the British Council’s commission for the British Pavilion at the 18th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia please contact:
Rebecca Ward for the British Council +44 (0) 7977 071450
Claire McAuley, British Council +44 (0) 7542 268752
Or email the press team: firstname.lastname@example.org
For British Council Venice press office updates: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/press
The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
20 May – 26 November 2023
The British Pavilion is commissioned and managed by British Council Architecture.
Commissioner: Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council.
For latest news on the British Council commission: https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/
Follow updates on the #BritishPavilion on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
About the British Pavilion Selection Committee
The UK’s presentation at the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is selected by an advisory panel of leading architecture professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the Biennale Architettura. The panel selecting the 2023 pavilion was chaired by Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion and also included:
Simon Allford, President RIBA
Gus Casely-Hayford, Director V&A East
Carole-Anne Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales
Anab Jain, Co-Founder and Director, Superflux
Chithra Marsh, Associate Director, Buttress Architects
Dr. Agustina Martire, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Queen’s University Belfast
Vanessa Norwood, Architecture Curator
Dr. Neal Shasore, Head of School and Chief Executive Officer, London School of Architecture
About the British Pavilion
Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, Farshid Moussavi and Richard Rogers have all contributed to the British Pavilion alongside other emerging and established architects, designers, artists and engineers. To find out more about previous British Pavilion exhibitions and British Council Architecture visit: venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/history and design.britishcouncil.org/
About the Venice Fellowships
The Venice Fellowships enable students and volunteers to spend a month in Venice during one of the world’s most significant art and architecture biennales:https://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/fellowship/about
About the Scottish Pavilion
Other presentations from the UK at this year’s La Biennale d’Architetture include A Fragile Correspondence commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership at Docks Cantieri Cucchini. Highlighting cultures and languages that have a close affinity with the landscapes of Scotland, A Fragile Correspondence explores alternative perspectives and new approaches to the challenges of the worldwide climate emergency. The exhibition is a curatorial collaboration between the Architecture Fringe, -ism, and /other. Further details at www.scotlandandvenice.com..
Fellow Scottish practitioners, Dualchas are also presenting as part of The Laboratory of the Future at the Arsenale (Corderi). The project is supported by Creative Scotland. Further details at www.dualchas.com
The British Pavilion is made possible through the generosity of the following organisations whose financial and in-kind contributions support the curators’ vision.
Gold Partner: Therme is a leading global wellbeing provider designing, constructing, and operating the world’s largest wellbeing facilities. Its contemporary urban development proposition incorporates environmental concepts to re-integrate nature into everyday life. Therme Art is responsible for Therme Group’s outreach to communities, curating transdisciplinary forums that invite perspectives from art, science, and technology to consider culture and creative production, and working with internationally renowned artists and architects to commission site-specific projects.
Therme Art has partnered with the British Council for the fifth year to support the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023. Therme Art will host its Wellbeing Culture Forum, a roundtable discussion prompted by the British Pavilion’s exhibition Dancing Before the Moon and featuring the curators and artists in dialogue with other practitioners.
Jayden Ali is an architect, artist and filmmaker whose interdisciplinary practice, JA Projects, works internationally on public-facing, cultural projects that strengthen communities and actively reflect on society. JA Projects designed this year's British Pavilion exhibition. Jayden’s art installation Thunder and Şimşek occupies the Pavilion’s portico and is his first foray into large-scale, 3D artworks. He is an educator at Central Saint Martins, a trustee of Open City, and a Design Advocate for the Mayor of London. He has been recognised by numerous publications as a key voice shaping the life of cities and is on the Architects’ Journal’s prestigious ‘40 Under 40’ list. He is an alumnus of the Architectural Association, The Cass and the University of East London.
Joseph Henry isa designer, urbanist and writer whose practice advocates for equitable processes for making cities. Joseph works at the Greater London Authority as Capital Development Manager in the Culture and Creative Industries Unit. He previously led the Ecological Urbanism research inquiry, where he developed planning policy and guidance to embed circular economy principles into London’s planning system. Joseph, alongside Pooja Agrawal, co-founded Sound Advice, an extra-institutional platform that explores new forms of spatial practice through music. Sound Advice develops projects that foreground narratives and culture critical to designing a more progressive and plural urban environment. Joseph has written for titles such as Dezeen and Casabella He is a trustee of the Russell Maliphant Dance Company and an advisor to Thearum Mundi.
Meneesha Kellay is a curator and commissioner working across art, architecture, design, and performance. Currently the Senior Curator, Contemporary Programme at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), she supports emerging creative practice through commissioning exhibitions, installations, performances, and events. Previously she was Public Programmes Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Assistant Director of the AA Night School at the Architectural Association, and led Open House London 2014. She has worked on projects for the Africa Architecture Awards and the Baltic Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia in 2016. She holds a Masters in Cultural and Critical Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Bachelors in Architecture from the University of Manchester.
Sumitra Upham is a curator and writer interested in spatial and discursive practices and the social value of making. Currently Head of Programmes at the Crafts Council, she oversees its contemporary craft collection and an interdisciplinary programme of exhibitions and events. Previously she was Senior Curator of Public Programmes at the Design Museum (2017–21); Curator of Programmes for the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, Empathy Re-Visited: Designs for more than one (2019–20); and Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London (2012–16). Sumitra holds a Masters in Curating Contemporary Design from Kingston University and a Graduate Certificate in History of Art and Architecture from Birkbeck, University of London. In 2020 she joined the board of Trustees at Cubitt, an artist-run gallery and cooperative.
Yussef Agbo-Ola, founder of Olaniyi Studio, is an architect and artist living between London and the Amazon Forest, French Guiana. His practice questions how art, architecture, and anthropological research can create experimental environments that challenge the ways we experience geological conditions and living ecosystems. His research manifests through architectural pavilions, photographic journalism, material alchemy, interactive performance, experimental sound design and conceptual writing. Born in rural Virginia in a multi-heritage Nigerian, African-American, and Cherokee household, his work reflects hybrid identities and relationships to different landscapes, ecologies and cultural rituals. Agbo-Ola holds a Masters in Fine Art from the University of the Arts London and a Masters in Architecture from the Royal College of Art. He has led art and architectural commissions for the United Nations; the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London; the Serpentine, London; Sharjah Architecture Triennial; Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands; TEDxEastEnd, London; the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Venice Architectural Biennale; and Palais de Tokyo, Paris, among others. Agbo-Ola is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), where he directs an experimental design studio within the Advanced Architectural Design programme.
Mac Collins is a British designer and artist committed to designing and making narrative-led and impactful furniture and objects that explore intersections of culture. As an artist of dual heritage, Collins draws on his British Jamaican lineage to create artefacts often informed by the stories and experiences of his intertwined community. He graduated with a degree in 3D Design from Northumbria University, Newcastle, and is the recipient of the London Design Festival’s Emerging Design Medal (2021) and the Ralph Saltzman Prize (2022), which culminated in a solo exhibition at the Design Museum, London. Recent group exhibitions include: Discovered: Designers for Tomorrow at the Design Museum, London, in partnership with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Wallpaper* (2021); Radical Acts at Harewood House, Leeds (2022), and To Be Held, curated by Ronan Mckenzie at The Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate (2023).
Shawanda Corbett: New York-born artist Shawanda Corbett has spent much of her life in Mississippi. She currently lives and works in London. Her interdisciplinary practice includes ceramics, performance, photography and film. She is currently studying for her doctorate in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford. Corbett's work is represented in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Harris, and the Arts Council Collection, all in the UK. She is the recipient of the Kleinwort Hambros Emerging Artist Prize (2021) and the Tate’s Turner Bursary (2020). Recent solo exhibitions include SAI Gallery: Down The Road, Tokyo; Art Now: Let The Sunshine In, Tate Britain, London; and Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art, Two Temple Place, London (2022).
Madhav Kidao is an Indian-born British architect and co-founder of London-based architecture, design, and art studio Nebbia Works alongside Brando Posocco. KidaoandPosocco’s work explores the peripheries of architecture and is driven by an interest in the idiosyncrasies, contradictions and undefined boundaries of our world. They investigate tools, narratives, technology and materials to fabricate new public and cultural environments with a particular focus on craft and process. A graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, Kidaopreviously worked at Heatherwick Studio (2013–17). Although an architect by training, his practice includes collaborations with artists, musicians, and theatre companies, as well as art direction for film. He has a particular interest in imagination-led design, performance, experimental technology and craftsmanship.
Sandra Poulson: Angolan artist Sandra Poulson lives between London and Luanda. She is a Masters student in Fashion at the Royal College of Art and has a Bachelors in Fashion Print from Central Saint Martins. Her work discusses the political, cultural, and socio-economic landscape of Angola to analyse the relationship between history, oral tradition, and global political structures. Her practice draws upon inherited societal memories of colonial Angola and its civil war to dismantle contemporary narratives through semiotic and archaeological studies. She is the recipient of the MullenLowe NOVA Award and the Central Saint Martins Dean’s Award (2020). Her work has been exhibited in exhibitions internationally, most recently at the Lagos Biennial (2019) and Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the South London Gallery (2021). She has had solo presentations at ARCOmadrid (2021), V.O Curations, London (2022) and Bold Tendencies, London (2023).