Artist Ahmed Basiony was to represent Egypt in the 2011 Venice Biennale in an exhibition at the country’s national pavilion, curated by Shady El Noshokaty. Yet the artist will now be representing his country’s art community posthumously — Basiony died in gunfire in Tahrir Square while documenting the recent revolutionary protests.
In an essay by El Noshokaty published on art website Universes in Universes, the curator writes that Basiony “was killed with several gunshot wounds inflicted by snipers on the Friday of Wrath in Tahrir Square,” and Basiony describes the artist as “was what one would consider an emblem of hope to millions of Egyptians, who were determined to live their life for change from a nationally repressed command.” The essay also translates Basiony’s last Facebook update,
Please, O Father, O Mother, O Youth, O Student, O Citizen, O Senior, and O more. You know this is our last chance for our dignity, the last change to change the regime that has lasted the past 30 years. Go down to the streets, and revolt, bring your food, your clothes, your water, masks and tissues, and a vinegar bottle, and believe me, there is but one very small step left… If they want war, we want peace, and I will practice proper restraint until the end, to regain my nation’s dignity.
Basiony was a multimedia artist whose 30 Days of Running in the Space exhibition outside Cairo’s Palace of the Arts presented a digital visualization of the artist’s physical activity as he ran in place within a specially installed chamber. His vital signs flashed on the walls as graphs and lines. The piece will be reprised at the 2011 Biennale, along with documentary footage that Basiony shot of the Tahrir Square protests as they were happening, from January 25 to 27. Basiony was driven to participate in the protests as much as he possibly could, filming daily though victim to police beatings.
This year’s Venice Biennale is entitled ILLUMInations and is curated by Parkett magazine editor Bice Curiger. The Biennale is often seen as an international art world mating ritual, inside baseball that the wider world often doesn’t get to see. Yet stories like this, of an artist featured in the exhibition tragically killed, is a reminder that the best contemporary art is never created in a vacuum. The Biennale will provide a platform for Basiony’s art as well as his story, and should be a source of pride for the developing Egyptian government and the healing Egyptian people.
The international art community exists to tell these stories and to make sure artists’ voices are heard, no matter their government. It is figures like Basiony and the still-detained Ai Weiwei who show us that contemporary art is vital to the world, and vital to protect.
- Lebanon has pulled out of the 2011 Venice Biennale due to “internal disagreements” and budget concerns. According to Artnet, the Berlin-based Danish art collaborative Wooloo had been invited to exhibit in the now-absent pavilion and will use the space to coordinate local Venetian home stays for Biennale artists in a commentary on cost and access.