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Friction in Benin


On November 6, 2012, e-flux circulated an announcement with misleading information about a biennial or two in Benin. Cédric Vincent wrote this important essay on how that announcement gave form to the way information spins a dispersed and globalized art world in many directions simultaneously, for better or for worse. We didn't know to publish this essay in the November 2012 issue of e-flux journal because Cédric hadn't written it yet, but we can now include it in that issue as a message to the past.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle (December 30, 2013)

Everything was looking good for the second edition of the Benin biennial. On November 6, 2012, an announcement for the biennial appeared. There was, however, a strange problem with the announcement. While the event announced had the exact same theme as the exhibition going up right before my eyes (“Inventing the World: The Artist as Citizen”), as well as the same artistic director and identical dates, there were a few incongruities: the list of sponsors had changed, as had the show locations and, most importantly, the lineup of artists had been totally revised. Moreover, the event as a whole had undergone a slight but significant name change. Whereas before it had been called “Biennale Bénin 2012,” now it was titled “Biennale Regard Benin 2012.” Unless some serious last-minute changes had occurred, there was only one possible conclusion: one event had become two. Indeed, such was the case. The strange announcement was not for the event I was witnessing go up, but for a completely different, if similar-sounding, event. From November 8, 2012 to January 13, 2013, two contemporary art biennials centered on the exact same theme took place simultaneously in Benin.

However, for visitors who weren’t aware of the double-dutching going on, Biennale Bénin 2012 was the only biennial occurring in Benin during those months. It took place in a disused department store called Centre Kora, and the artistic director was Moroccan curator Abdellah Karroum. Karroum’s plans for the show were quite ambitious. His goal was to go beyond the habitual, to cast his gaze beyond Africa and its diasporas—a laudable intention and a most effective way of positioning Biennale Bénin vis-à-vis Dak’Art and SUD (Douala), both of which have a resolutely Pan-African focus.

Read the full article here.