Omar Donia is no longer associated in any way with the Grenada National Pavilion.
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Press Release– St. George’s Grenada
8th January 2017
When the Curator Burns the Bridge
Grenada is a small country in the Caribbean. Previously a colony of Great Britain, the current population is just over 100,000 people. Ok, it is tiny.
With tourism and agriculture (premium cocoa and spices) providing the economic base, there has not been much institutional support for art, much less contemporary art. There are no formal art schools, no national museum for art, and essentially no annual budget from the government for art. What does exist in abundance is the passion of the artists, and a supportive Minister of Culture. It is an amazing fact that Grenada, this tiny independant island, has been able to host two successive National Pavilions at the prestigious Biennale di Venezia, the ultimate art exhibit in the world.
In 2017 the headliner of the Grenada Pavilion was Jason de Caires Taylor. His underwater sculpture parks have made him famous in the world–the first was in Grenada. This Caribbean person of Guyana stock lived and worked in Grenada. The pavilion received over 60,000 visitors, and tremendous good press from newspapers, magazines and online sites around the world.
That’s the good news. Now for the bad news.
While exhibiting at the Biennale di Venezia is a privilege, it is a costly one. No one exhibits for free. Costs like rent of the building, inspections by city authorities, paying of guardians, shipping of work, printing of promotional literature all add up. So when a curator comes along who says he will raise funds outside of Grenada to help defray these costs it seems like a good solution.
In 2015 it was. The help we had from our Italian sponsors, curators and artists allowed us to get our feet wet and put up our first pavilion. It was a fantastic experience with good people with whom we continue to have a great relationship.
In 2017 the story was different.
The curator included artist from the middle east, and gave the theme “The Bridge”. He pontificated that art could bridge east and west, bring understanding, and make a more peaceful world. We didn’t know he was holding matches.
The curator, not Italian, seemed to only focus on the money he would get. He continuously demanded more. The only thing that was requested of him for more contribution from us was that receipts be produced, and a spreadsheet of expenses be provided. We made sure that throughout the run of the show, we paid the guardians, repairs, and other unexpected expenses that came up. In November at the end of the 7 months, and more threatening emails, he went to Venice early, changed the locks on the building, threatened the guardians and sent them away, closed the pavilion before the stated end of the biennale. He also left bills unpaid.
But the worst of the story of this; when it came time to pack up the work and return it to the artists, Asher Mains’ work was missing. All 8 pieces of the beautiful installation. The curator had left Venice by then, and did not reply to emails from the art packer and his workmen said they knew nothing of it. The curator lives in Dubai in UAE. No one there or in his home country of Egypt would be proud of his action.
The incident has been reported to the Italian police, who have a special unit for dealing with art theft. The authorities of la Biennale di Venezia have been made aware of the situation.
The loss of this young artist of his work as an act of revenge cannot be measured in dollars. The loss to Grenada of this work cannot be measured in its value to our heritage.
We do not want this horrible experience to deter us or other Caribbean artists from participating in external exhibitions in the future. In spite of due diligence and checking references, there will always be those who think that we can be trampled over because we are a small country.
We are preparing for 2019 in Venice. Stinging from loss, hurt, wiser, but like Bob said, “we are the small axe”.
An advisory board will guide; again an international selection. Amel Mekkawi will be the Head. Others include Natalia Andakulova founder of Andakulova Gallery – Dubai, a prominent art collector from Spain, Mrs. Monica Mascaros, and Sandra Louison a freelance Arts Consultant, herself of Grenadian heritage, has advised and worked with artists of multi disciplinary genres, and also has a specific interest in creating international artist networks using social media as a resource tool. Sandra is also currently working at Whitechapel Gallery in London.
Amel Mekkawi, Head
Natlai Andakulova of Andukulova Gallery, Dubai
Mrs. Monica Mascaros, Spain
Sandra Louison, London/Grenada