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Hannah Silver

Kapwani Kiwanga considers value and commerce for the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2024

Woman in profile next to garden.

Paris-based, Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga draws on her anthropological training for pieces that criss-cross a multitude of mediums at the Venice Biennale 2024. From performance and embroidery to sculpture and installation, her work considers the political implications of material, from the impact of the agricultural revolution to the consequences of alien species crossing continents.

‘I think the starting point is just being curious,’ says Kiwanga on what unites her diverse body of work. ‘I happen to have had the privilege of being in institutions where they teach you different skills, how to understand and interact with the archive in different discourses. But then, at the same time, I wouldn’t want [my work] to be so exclusive that you would need to have that background to be able to access it. And so very early on, when I was studying, I knew that academia was probably not going to be the place where I would end up putting all of my energy, because I did want to have that broad reach.’

Kiwanga has drawn on this multitude of references for her sculpture installation for the Canadian Pavilion, which was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada. The work considers questions of inherent value through the lens of the history of commerce, an issue she has considered in the past, observing first-hand how fracking transformed sand from a valueless raw material to a highly prized commodity.

‘There’s always this question of value in a more philosophical sense,’ she says, ‘Which is really the crux of the question. When one thinks about how a plant or an elephant can have an economic value in one context, but has a much more integrated, social, cultural, spiritual role in another context, then those questions of regimes of value are of interest.’

A version of this article appears in the May 2024 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print from 11 April, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today.

The Venice Art Biennale 2024 will be open to the public from 20 April to 24 November

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