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These Are the Most Important Biennials and Triennials in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America

  • Ewa Partum - Metapoetry, 18th Sydney Biennale
October 27, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The most important biennials and triennials in Europe and North America such as the Venice Biennale or the Whitney Biennial are rather famous since they tend to set the standards and methodology for all the other ones. In the increasingly globalized world, art tendencies are moving forward, so it is not unusual that more and more cities are becoming exceptional hubs for contemporary art.

In the following list of the most important art events and exhibitions taking place every two/three years in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia, we will find some of the most longstanding ones, dedicated to promoting the local scene and introducing the worldwide audience to new trends of their respective areas.

Featured image: Ewa Partum – Metapoetry, 18th Sydney Biennale. Image via Melanie Lazarow

  • Havana Bienial

Bienal de la Habana

The first on the list is The Havana Biennial which was established in 1984. The first edition was entirely devoted to Latin America and the Caribbean artists, and after the second edition the artists from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia started participating, so Havana became a venue for displaying non-Western art.

Every other year, the program was mainly focused on the social and political issues – from the tension between tradition and contemporaneity, through colonization, the personal and collective memory, to human communication and rapid technological advancement, etc. The Biennial is set as a research-based curatorial process and all the artists fit proposed concept.

Featured image: Havana Biennial. Image via artempocuba.com

  • Zhao Liang - Black Face, White Face, 10th Shanghai Biennale

Shanghai Biennale

The Shanghai Biennale was established in 1996 and is the most important art event in China, as well as one of the most important biennials in Asia. Throughout two decades of its existence, it has managed to become highly profiled manifestation for contemporary art production.

The Biennale was organized by the Shanghai Art Museum until 2012 when Power Station of Art, the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China, got in charge for the event. Aside from creating an international platform for artists and curators, the Shanghai Biennale especially supports the Asian production.

Featured image: Zhao Liang – Black Face, White Face, 10th Shanghai Biennale. Image via myartguides.com

  • Gwangju Biennale

Gwangju Biennale

South Korea’s most prosperous biennial takes place in the city of Gwangju, and every other year it displays contemporary art under a specific theme. The central exhibition is organized at the Biennale Hall in Gwangju’s Jungoui Park and is followed by guest exhibitions and various performances.

By working with a number of internationally recognized curators, the Gwangju Biennale managed to position itself within the contemporary art circuit, and to become a cultural capital of East Asia and to reflect the growing interest in Asian culture, new cities and culture trends.

Featured image: Gwangju Biennale. Image via myartguides.com

  • François Roche - Bamboo Bonsai-ing. Singapore Biennale 2013

Singapore Biennale

The first edition of the Singapore Biennale happened as one of a lineup of Singapore 2006 events which included the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.

The biennial theme of Belief was delivered in various locations throughout Singapore, and the whole event which featured 95 artists and collectives from 38 different countries, and was a success. It was organized by the National Arts Council in collaboration with the National Heritage Board. Throughout the years, the Singapore Biennale managed to establish a stable platform for Singapore artists and the international art world, as well as to expand those connections further in the international community of contemporary art biennales.

Featured image: François Roche – Bamboo Bonsai-ing. Singapore Biennale 2013. Image via Urban Isthmus

  • Firoz Mahmud - Halcyon Tarp, Installation view at Sharjah Biennial

Sharjah Biennial

The following biennial happens in the city of Sharjah located in the United Arab Emirates. It is a contemporary art organized by the Sharjah Department of Culture and Information established in 1993. Through the years, the biennial  grew from a more traditional and regionally focused exhibition into the internationally recognized event.

In 2009 the Sharjah Biennial became part of the newly established Sharjah Art Foundation alongside the annual March Meeting, residencies, production grants, commissions, exhibitions, collections, research, and publications. The biennial focuses on the presentation of contemporary art and engages  with the individual artists themselves, which became a successful model for future manifestations. The exhibition venues differ, yet they always include the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces, the Sharjah Art Museum, as well as the traditional buildings and courtyards.

Featured image: Firoz Mahmud – Halcyon Tarp, Installation view at Sharjah Biennial. Image via creative commons

  • Biennale of Sydney

Biennale of Sydney

The Biennale of Sydney is a renowned international manifestation and the most important and best-attended contemporary visual arts event in the country. It belongs to the group of the oldest biennials on the world along with Documenta, Venice and São Paulo biennales.

The first edition happened in 1973 under the initial agenda to establish the concise and progressive program in order to question traditional models. In a contemporary moment, the Biennale of Sydney is a leading international event on the global scale and continues to be recognized for empowering provocative art practices. That is made possible by a stable curatorial concept and independent artistic vision, as well as the following education and public programs, artists’ residencies and publications.

Featured image: Biennale of Sydney. Image via biennaleofsydney.com

  • Alexander Ponomarev - Voice in the Wilderness, Marrakech Biennale 5

Marrakech Biennale

Marrakech is indeed an exotic and attractive tourist location, yet for more than ten years it hosts an amazing contemporary art festival which has gained recognition. The first edition was organized by Vanessa Branson and Abel Damoussi, as a trilingual event (English, Arabic & French).

The Marrakech Biennale focuses mostly on progressive contemporary visual art, film and literature. Along with the main exhibition, various artists talks, happenings, installations, debates and screenings are being organized in various conventional and unconventional venues. The aim is to empower and promote the local scene and contemporary artists around North Africa and to enable a multicultural and multi-disciplinary exchange through an educational approach.

Featured image: Alexander Ponomarev – Voice in the Wilderness, Marrakech Biennale 5. Photo: Achraf Bendaoud. Image creative commons

  • Dakar Biennale

Dak'Art

Dakar, the capital of Senegal, since 1990 organizes a comprehensive biennale alternating between literature and art. In 1996 Dak’Art was rearranged so it became an exhibition specifically devoted to contemporary African art.

Throughout the years, the manifestation grew and received more media coverage and attendance of international guests. Despite different financial problems, Dak’Art survived and is the continent’s longest running grandiose art event. It is focused on creating a hub for different non-prejudice art professionals which largely contribute to the betterment of society.

Featured image: The patron and the artist at Biennale de Dakar in 2006. Image creative commons

  • Ibirapuera, Pavilion Ciccillo

Bienal de Sao Paulo

Last, but not the least is the famous The Bienal de São Paulo founded by the Italian-Brazilian industrialist Ciccillo Matarazzo (1898-1977). This art event has been held in Matarazzo’s pavilion in the Parque do Ibirapuera, an impressive structure built by architects Oscar Niemeyer and Hélio Uchôa.

The Bienal represents Brazilian and international artists and is undoubtedly one of the most important art exhibits in the country. Since 1962 a newly established the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo took over the organization of the exhibition. The aim of the Biennial is to promote contemporary art in Brazil, support local artists and merge different practices and scenes.

Featured image: Interior of the Biennial of Arte de São Paulo, by Oscar Niemeyer. Image creative commons