With less than four months before the opening of the 60th Venice Biennale, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture has dropped the artists and curator originally chosen to represent the country in its first-ever national pavilion.
Le Monde Afrique reported on Wednesday Mahi Binebine, the pavilion’s curator, received news from a Moroccan ministry official on Monday that he, along with artists Safaa Erruas, Majida Khattari, and Fatiha Zemmouri, would no longer be involved with the presentation. According to Binebine, the ministry official did not provide a justification for the “last-minute decision” to replace him with art historian and independent curator Mouna Mekouar.
Binebine told Le Monde Afrique that he spent “several tens of thousands of euros” to ensure the project was completed within three months and that images of the art were ready to be sent to the Biennale by its January 11 deadline. Binebine and the artists had reportedly traveled to Venice in September to visit the pavilion in preparation of the event and had even met with the director of the biennale, Adriano Pedrosa. In the intervening months, they had repeatably been in contact with the ministry concerning the reimbursement and promised financing for additional preparations.
The Venice Biennale and Moroccan Ministry of Culture did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Erruas, an artist based in Tetouan, in northern Morocco, told Le Monde Afrique that the situation was “a nightmare,” explaining that she had rented a second workshop and collaborated with dozens of artists to construct the 42-foot-long installation set to debut in Venice. “How can an institution that is supposed to help and promote artists disrespect them to this extent,” she said.
The next Venice Biennale will run from April 20 to November 24. The main exhibition, which is curated by Pedrosa separately from the pavilions, is titled “Foreigners Everywhere.” It explores the concept of a borderless world “rife with multiple crises concerning the movement and existence of people across countries,” according to its descritpion.
Morocco was among those making their Venice Biennale debut, alongside Benin, which has never before had a pavilion there.
In a statement posted to Instagram on Tuesday, Binebine and the artists said they wished “all the success in the world” to their replacements.
“With dignity, we maintain hope in this Morocco which hurts us,” the statement concluded.