The Venice Biennale is one of the art world’s most prestigious exhibitions. It’s a big deal for the artists whose work is chosen. KERA contributor Joan Davidow visited Venice and reports on a Dallas artist whose work is receiving international attention.
We hopped on a vaporetto, the public water taxi that jots around the canals of Venice. We chop through the aqua waters to an Italianate pavilion for the opening of the exhibition,”In the Eye of the Thunderstorm: Effervescent Practices from the Arab World & Asia.” We’ve come to see the work of Dallas artist, Simeen Farhat, the only Texas artist at the Venice Biennale this year.
As we entered the site, Farhat’s artwork welcomed us. A mass of black, sculptured cursive text hangs from the ceiling wound into an oversized ball. The piece, called “Swarm,” consists of emails with her former lover. It represents her personal inner turmoil and it also calls to mind worldwide horrors of war and women disrespected, dishonored, and ignored. Farhat draws inspiration from Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Tower of Babel story, artworks she saw in New York while traveling back from Egypt. She creates art using familiar Western alphabet script. We recognize it, but cannot quite decipher it. It’s almost as though her artwork marks the eye of the thunderstorm!
The Venice Biennale is a prestigious exhibition of contemporary art held every two years since 1985. This year 89 countries were represented. The art is dispersed across numerous stunning settings, as far as a boat ride away to the island of an Armenian monastery. Nigerian Okwui Enwezor curated the main theme, “All the World’s Futures.” He invited more than 100 artists from 53 countries to create work to address that theme. Then, Enwezor invited other curators to create 44 additional exhibitions, satellites.
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Farhat emigrated from Pakistan to the U.S. 23 years ago. She’s called Dallas home for 17 years. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree at TCU in Fort Worth and she has taught at area universities. Farhat is represented by galleries in Islamabad and Dubai and at Cris Worley Fine Arts in Dallas.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has commissioned new work from her for its main lobby. Closer to home, KPMG has acquired a work for its offices in downtown Dallas called “Can We, Should We?”
Farhat’s art touches on how we communicate with each other. As a Pakistani living in the US and traveling abroad, she addresses the globalization and inter-connectedness of the world. Now her art connects her to the world. Inclusion in the Venice Biennale puts Simeen Farhat in rare company and in front of an audience of art world cognoscenti.