Spirituality as a Unifying Force for Marginalised Groups

21.05.2024
Giulia ANDREANI, La scuola di taglio e cucito, 2023, Giardini

The theme and title of the 60th international exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is Foreigners Everywhere. In the main exhibition, at both Arsenale and Giardini, as well as in national pavilions, migration is widely highlighted alongside traditions and ways of living for indigenous peoples around the world. Many artists utilise their religions and traditions as the framework to define their experiences and identities in the art works and installations on display this Biennale season, drawing close attention to the ethnic legacies and social milieus they come from. 

In addition, it’s noteworthy that concepts such as  the occult and references to spirituality are often to be found in the works of individuals who grapple with difficult themes revolving around identity and lived experiences. It seems that these difficult experiences and unjust realities of marginalised people has strong ties to and perhaps can lead people to seek out the spiritual realm. Some might see that as a form of escapism, but to me on the contrary it's not necessarily to flee the real world but more so to pursue tranquillity in one's soul, an attempt to reach a higher consciousness or even to ground oneself .

Spirituality has intertwined itself into my life on more than one occasion. It has been a way for me to overcome abuse and especially grief. I tend to seek out things relating to the occult or spiritualism and have since I was a child. That is why I was drawn to the works in the following article. I will look into a few examples from The on-going Biennale exhibitions where marginalised groups utilise spirituality as a unifying force.

Ochirbold AYURZANA, 2024, Mongolian Pavilion

Ochirbold AYURZANA, Discovering the Present From the Future (2024), Mongolian Pavilion

Ochirbold Ayurzana and United Mongolia

The Mongolian pavilion is located in front of the Arsenale entrance. The first thing one sees when walking into the Mongolian pavilion is a big aluminium skeleton, hovering in the air with its gaze fixated on you, the spectator. The experience is heightened by good usage of space, the skeleton seems as though it is crawling out of the wall. 

Inspired by the Buddhist deity Citipati (Mongolian: Durtoddagva) the skeleton serves as a reminder of the impermanence of life and the importance of a spiritual search for higher consciousness and enlightenment. The objective of artist Ochirbold Ayurzana is to bridge the present and the future using ancient Buddhist traditions and wisdom. I feel as though it is a strong message that comes better across to people familiar with these beliefs. Standing in the Mongolian pavilion with a strange, large, staring skeleton crawling out of the corners, I was the one that did not fit in. It was almost as though I was entering a ritual I was not a part of.

With this, Ayurzana is not only using spirituality in a modern perspective, but also forming a strong connection to his homeland, Mongolia. The country gained independence from China in 1946 with Inner Mongolia being still under Chinese rule. Using Mongolian traditioins, Ayurzana looks into the future to a reality where Mongolia has been united all whilst reflecting on its colonial past.

Liz COLLINS, Rainbow Mountain Moon, 2024, Giardini

Liz COLLINS, Rainbow Mountain Moon (2024). International exhibition at Giardini.

Liz Collins and the Queer Utopia 

In the group exhibition curated by the South-American curator Adriano Pedrosa at Giardini you can find other examples of an encounter between artistic creativity and spirituality. The all surrounding woven artworks of American artist Liz Collins show dark mountainous landscapes with bright and colourful rainbows bursting out from them. The works draw you in with their sense of inspiration and optimism, the feeling of well deserved reward after struggle.  

With the artworks Collins considers the possibility of a queer utopia drawing from her own lived experience of being queer. Following the Pandemic the world has seen recessions in rights for queer people, especially trans individuals and other marginalised groups. The rise of right wing politics in the Western World has unfortunately resulted in the rise of homo- and transphobia. Collins' art seems as a positive counterattack, a reminder that the good wins.

The rainbows spring forth from the sky creating a connection in my mind to heaven, to a colourful world far from our colourless one. On one of the textile works you can see a glowing globe at the centre of the work. Inspired by mandalas, a known religious symbol and a ritual that can be found in many different religions, speculation can be drawn that the globe represents Collins’ soul descending to a higher plane of consciousness, to the queer utopia she has depicted in her works. The thought of a different reality where everybody is accepted is comforting, especially during the hard times as the one we are living through now. 

Giulia ANDREANI, Conservative Ghost, 2024, Giardini

Giulia ANDREANI, Conservative Ghost, (2024). International exhibition at Giardini.

Giulia Andreani and the Relationship between Spiritualism and Feminism

At the main exhibition at Giardini paintings from Italian artist Giulia Andreani can be found. At first glance it seems as if they are blurred and aged photographs but at closer inspection you can see that they have been painted in oil, in the style of photographs from the early 20th century. The subjects of the paintings are courteous women posing in a black and white world and it seems as if their souls are astral projections in the frame as if they are being drawn out of their bodies. 

In her works, Andreani addresses historical amnesia and the relations of the occult and spiritualism with feminism. Andreani's work initiates a dialogue with self-taught British artist Madge Gill from the early 20th century. Gill worked under the influence of a spirit guide named Myrninerest and her work is the result of her traumatic life experiences and ability to be mediumistically connected to other worlds. Located across Andreani's paintings at Giardini is a pencil drawn mural made by Gill. Made in a trance, the work depicts faces of women coming deep from Gill's consciousness, voices of inner women helping her through trauma. The women of Gill´s work mirror the women of Andreani´s work as faces of forgotten women.

Madge GILL, Crucifixion of the Soul, 1936, Giardini

Madge GILL, Crucifixion of the Soul, (1936). International exhibition at Giardini.

From the curation of the works, a connection is drawn between Gill's story and works and Andreani's works depicting women's history in fine art and their access to the art world by using photographs from the women's suffrage in Britain at the start of the 20th century. Inspired by both the documentation of pioneering women of that time as well as Gill's work, Andreani researches the connection between spiritualism and feminism as a manifestation of women's empowerment. As a woman myself I thought it was inspiring to see the faces of forgotten women get a platform and voice through these works. By mirroring artist Madge Gill who channelled her trauma through art with the help of spirituality it is almost as if their works are using art as a bridge towards healing for other women. 

Andrés CURRUCHICH Cúmez, Procesión: patrón de San Juan está en su trono, 1966, Giardini

Andrés CURRUCHICH Cúmez, Procesión: patrón de San Juan está en su trono, (1966). International exhibition at Giardini.

Andrés Curruchich Cúmez and Colonisation

At the group exhibition at Giardini one can find a painting made by Guatemalan artist Andrés Curruchich Cúmez who is descended from the Kaqchikel tribe. The painting addresses native resistance following an invasion from Spain in Guatemala. It is painted in oil and depicts certain scenes of Guatemalan traditions.

The subjects of the painting are women and men taking part in the summer celebration of Saint  John, the patron saint of San Juan Comalapa, former city of Kaqchikel, which got its new name after being colonised by Spain. The members of the tribe wear traditional patterns and clothing by colourful altars dedicated to the saint. 

The adoption of Christianity by Indigenous populations in the Americas was marked by coercive conversion methods by their Colonisers such as land deprivation and the destruction of Indigenous cultures and traditions. Today, many Indigenous peoples in the Americas practise a form of Christianity that incorporates elements of their traditional elements from their own cultures. The painting depicts that even though the Natives partake in a Christian festival it is their own original beliefs and traditions that unite them as native Guatemalan people. Even though the dark undertone can be felt in the way the subjects stare blankly through the canvas there is a sense of underlying bittersweet optimism as well. The colourful and beautiful altars serve as a reminder that religion is the way for many to overcome trauma. The religion that the colonisers introduced to the Natives served also as an escape from the trauma inflicted from these same oppressors.  This is the first article about the Venice Biennale where the main themes and ideas are explored, as well as the national pavilions, the uncertainty of current events and the main exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere which is curated by Adriano Pedrosa.

Newly graduated artists from Iceland University of the Arts and art theorists from The University of Iceland, interns situated in Venice, are currently working on articles and reports of key ideas and themes of current exhibitions of La Biennale. 

Auður Mist, often known as Auja Mist, is a 23 year old artist from Reykjavík. Auja graduated from the fine arts department of IUA in 2023 and has since then worked as an artist based in Reykjavík. 

Giulia ANDREANI, La scuola di taglio e cucito, 2023, Giardini

Giulia ANDREANI, La scuola di taglio e cucito, (2023). International exhibition at Giardini.

Ochirbold AYURZANA, 2024, Mongolian Pavilion

Ochirbold AYURZANA, Discovering The Present From The Future, (2024), Mongolian Pavilion

Liz COLLINS, Rainbow Mountain Moon, 2024, Giardini

Liz COLLINS, Rainbow Mountain Moon, (2024). International exhibition at Giardini.

Giulia ANDREANI, Conservative Ghost, 2024, Giardini

Giulia ANDREANI, Conservative Ghost, (2024). International exhibition at Giardini.

Madge GILL, Crucifixion of the Soul, 1936, Giardini

Madge GILL, Crucifixion of the Soul, (1936). International exhibition at Giardini.

Andrés CURRUCHICH Cúmez, Procesión: patrón de San Juan está en su trono, 1966, Giardini

Andrés CURRUCHICH Cúmez, Procesión: patrón de San Juan está en su trono, (1966). International exhibition at Giardini.

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