The Liverpool Biennale of Contemporary Art revisits the links between the United Kingdom and its former Empire

She had never been to Liverpool (United Kingdom) before being chosen to be the curator of this 12e edition of the biennial of contemporary art – the first was launched in 1998. Khanyisile Mbongwa, young independent curator, sociologist and artist from Cape Town (South Africa), close-cropped and red hair and Crocs on his feet, at the opening of the demonstration, on June 10, discovered the port city more than a year ago under a wind that had frozen it.

“I remember being gripped to the skin by the wind on the docks. The same wind that made Liverpool a strategic place for the British Empire and its merchant marine sent to its colonies.explains the curator, pointing out that this port in north-west England was the first to set up triangular trade, at the beginning of the 18th century.e century. This wind which has swelled the sails of so many ships, she has chosen its equivalent in the Bantu language, uMoya, which also designates the air, the breath, the spirit or the climate, as the title of the 2023 edition (“ uMoya : The Sacred Return of Lost Things”).

Before thinking of artists, the curator first looked at the network of maritime links from the British Empire to Liverpool, then at the artistic scenes of the countries concerned. His vision was to put into perspective the colonial past of the port city while revealing practices of emancipation. “This biennial represents a state of remembrance of what has been lost, stolen, taken from those who have been silenced or forgotten, and which is now on its way back. These same winds are harnessed to blow new roads”she explains.

Colonial heritage

Questions of colonial heritage have of course already been addressed in the city, notes Samantha Lackey, the new director of the biennale, but Khanyisile Mbongwa brings an outside point of view and comes to redefine identities through the work of 35 artists. from six continents: “It summons ancestral forms of knowledge, wisdom and care, even joy, turned towards a liberating future”underlines the Briton.

The 2023 edition is like a spirit that blows over the city and allows you to (re)discover the city (which was European Capital of Culture 2008), through eight exhibition sites and five commissions in the public space. . The exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, a museum installed on the old docks of the port, brings together the works of a dozen artists who each in their own way redraw a world map, between traumas of the past, persistent echoes and paths of healing. .

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