Therme Art Program

British Pavilion Awarded Special Mention at the Biennale Archittetura 2023

The British Council commissioned Dancing Before the Moon as a part of this year’s theme at the Biennale Archittetura 2023, The Laboratory of the Future. The jury awarded the British Pavilion curators, artists, and the commissioner a Special Mention for National Participation, recognising their curatorial strategy and design propositions that celebrated the potency of everyday rituals as forms of resistance and spatial practice in diasporic communities.

Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay, Sevra Davis and Jayden Ali. Photo credit: La Biennale di Venezia

Therme Art is proud to collaborate with the British Council to support the British Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2023. Dancing Before the Moon comprises work from 6 UK based practitioners, with a focus on materiality and process. A series of large-scale works are installed throughout the galleries, each one centering on a specific ritual. The afterlife, cleansing, music-making, cooking, worship, and healing are taken up by this varied and thoughtful cohort of artists as both collaborative practices and material for architectural fragments that are situated within the pavilion’s exhibition design. 

British Pavilion 2023 Artists, Curators, Partners and Commissioners. Image: Francesco Allegretto

Expanding notions of architecture to reflect how spaces are navigated, disrupted and shaped, the exhibition examines diasporic rituals as spatial practices that hold traditions and practices from diverse geographies. From architectural and textile traditions of Cherokee and Yoruba culture, to the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs surrounding the afterlife; outdoor washing practices of Angola, and healing spiritual customs of the American South. The presentation showcases a range of practices at the intersection of varied disciplines that reflect the diversity of communities, cultures and customs throughout the UK. Dancing Before the Moon also showcases Jamaican dominoes in Nottingham, the craft of Trinidadian steel pan drum-making, and the art of Cypriot outdoor cooking. A film by the curators occupies the main hall, created with a host of collaborators and a soundtrack by Oscar #Worldpeace and Fredwave.

Curators Jayden Ali, Joseph Henry, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham said:

“We are grateful that such an esteemed jury has recognised our exhibition ‘Dancing Before the Moon’. As curators, we want to use this time to acknowledge the collective effort of this exhibition. Many hands and minds made this pavilion – we would like to thank Yussef Agbo-Ola, Madhav Kidao, Sandra Poulson, Mac Collins, Shawanda Corbett, Sakky Barnor, Guldem Massa, Oscar #worldpeace, Fredwave, denike Oke, Makkan Singh, Hark1karan (Harkaran Singh), Gundeep Singh, Jason Wallis and Issi Nanabeyin.

Our ambition was to make the British Pavilion a generous and uplifting place that reflects how a sentiment of care for people, materials and spaces can hold clues for how to build a better world – we hope in some way to have achieved that.”

The practitioners commissioned for this year’s British Pavilion are Mac Collins, Sandra Poulson, Shawanda Corbett, Madhav Kidao, Yussef Agbo-Ola, and Jayden Ali. The presentation is curated by Joseph Henry, Jayden Ali, Meneesha Kellay and Sumitra Upham. 

Left to right: Yussef Agbo-Ola, Madhav Kidao, Sandra Poulson, Mac Collins © British Council

Sevra Davis, Director of Architecture Design and Fashion at the British Council and Commissioner of the British Pavilion said:

“The British Council, curators and artists are overjoyed at the positive response we have received for ‘Dancing Before the Moon,’ which has been praised by visitors as being at once thought-provoking, confident and uplifting. I am proud of and inspired by the work of this year’s exhibition, which encourages us to reflect on contemporary architecture and to think about how a diversity of voices can help us to create more inclusive and vibrant places.

This Special Mention for ‘Dancing Before the Moon’ acknowledges the unique vision and immense energy which the artists and curators brought to the Biennale Architettura this year. To win this prestigious award is a huge honour for the British Council and we are incredibly grateful to receive this accolade for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition.”

Left to right: Sevra Davis, Meneesha Kellay, Sumitra Upham, Joseph Henry, Jayden Ali. Image: Francesco Allegretto

Dancing Before the Moon was conceived and crafted through the lens of South Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas in Britain, highlighting the architectural imperative to look beyond facades, encompassing both physical and economical structures, and into the rich tapestry of everyday social practices, customs and traditions that  authentically shape how people and diverse communities engage with, honour, inhabit and embody urban spaces.

The Works

Dancing Before the Moon

In the main hall of the Pavilion, a new film work is shown on a large screen in a space dedicated to gathering and the sharing of ideas. The film observes rituals performed by the global diaspora in Britain, demonstrating an appreciation of land, community values and sharing space. Through dance, procession, games, growing and worship we are reminded that, irrespective of race, culture and socio-economic circumstances, we are all capable of inventing and transforming what’s around us. The film includes new footage shot around the UK including a pub in Nottingham and hair salon in Streatham and some rarely-seen archive footage from the BFI. A new soundtrack accompanies the film, blending old and new music in a new score devised by musicians Oscar #Worldpeace and Fredwave. As a room for congregation, the main hall will host a programme of public events including film screenings and talks.

Thunder and Şimşek
Jayden Ali

As visitors approach the entrance of the British Pavilion, they immediately encounter an installation on the exterior of the Pavilion. Thunder and Şimşek explores Ali’s ancestral ties to the islands of Trinidad and Cyprus. This large-scale installation reflects the hybridised cultures and rituals that have grown from occupation. The overhead sculptures, made using steel hammered into shape, represent both the pastimes of Trinidadian steel-pan playing and Cypriot cooking – rituals that became critical to the descendants of these colonised islands claiming space in the UK. The sculptures occupy the traditional façade of the Pavilion’s portico – reimagining the portico as a transitory space for departure and arrival.

Jayden Ali – Thunder and Şimşek (02), British Pavilion 2023 © British Council

Sãbao Azul e Água
Sandra Poulson

Artist Sandra Poulson’s practice draws from her personal experience and observations growing up in Luanda, Angola. Dust sweeps Luanda, settling on people’s bodies and garments. Poulson investigates this residue as a vehicle for identifying socioeconomic status in the city and considers cleansing rituals as tools for social mobility and space occupation.

Sãbao Azul e Água by Sandra Poulson British Pavilion 2023 © Francesco Allegretto

This installation comprises four objects that reference the architectural vernacular and social traditions of Luanda: a cement tank used for hand-washing laundry, a colonial-era balustrade, a garment reminiscent of a traditional Angolan dress worn by women, and footprints. Made from fabric, each one is pattern cut, sewn, stuffed with textile landfill waste and rendered with sabão azul, a blue soap that is ubiquitous in Angola. Soap is used to conceal the objects’ form, and unearth hidden narratives. Sabão Azul e Água captures Poulson’s ongoing interest in cleansing rituals and their connection to space, heritage preservation, and labour.

Mac Collins

Dominoes is played widely by the British-Caribbean community inside pubs and community centres across the UK and has informed Nottingham-born designer and artist Mac Collins’ Runout. Collins investigates how the material culture and performance associated with dominoes and other cultural rituals have become tangible links to the Caribbean for the Jamaican diaspora in Britain. The exaggerated, futuristic object is made using ebonised and polished ash timber. Its ambiguous form sits somewhere between an abstracted domino and an unknown living form. Its deliberate scale and stature represents the integrity and pride that British-Jamaican communities have built around their collective culture. For Collins, Runout is a reminder of distant and fading ancestry, and the myths and stories created by generations of Caribbean communities reflecting on their position within contemporary British society. It also explores how diasporic urban rituals build social relations and occupy space.

A healing is coming
Shawanda Corbett

Shawanda Corbett, A healing is coming, British Pavilion 2023, Photograph by Taran Wilkhu © British Council

Interdisciplinary artist Shawanda Corbett creates work through the inspiration of African and Indigenous American ceramics, cyborg theory and the fluidity of jazz. The community of ceramic vessels cast their shadows on the wall to ‘occupy’ the pavilion. A healing is coming represents the perceived purity that women are expected to uphold in American southern culture, a masculine’s view of women in US Christian culture, the women’s necessary detachment from this projection in order to live, but their struggle to heal. The work focuses on a group of women who embark on different spiritual paths to practice healing. Voodoo/Vodou, an African diaspora religion (originally Vodun in West Africa), and Hoodoo (spiritual practice) are the spiritual practices the women used to seek relief in physical and mental healing.

Madhav Kidao

Bardo has been made by melting down and recasting ‘Between Forests and Skies’ – a pavilion designed for the V&A in 2021 by Kidao’s practice Nebbia Works. The large aluminium ‘wall’ explores the rituals surrounding death. Bardo is a Tibetan word which refers to the intermediate state in Buddhism after death but before re-birth. It embodies the concept of ‘punarmṛtyu’ (Sanskrit for ‘re-death’) through the destruction of one form and the creation of another. Influenced by emergent cultures in London, and Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, Kidao’s work champions circular thinking and considers architecture’s temporality. The textures on the work’s surface have been manipulated by the sand in which it was cast, and as an acoustic panel, Bardo reflects and modulates sound, dispersing it through the holes in its surface.

Madhav Kidao, Bardo, British Pavilion 2023, Photograph by Taran Wilkhu © British Council

Muluku: 6 Bone Temple
Yussef Agbo-Ola 

Muluku: 6 Bone Temple honours rituals across architecture, performance and art within Yoruba and Cherokee communities that respect the natural world and foreground environmental consecration. Organic cotton is woven together on a frame using pineapple fibre to create a sacred structure inspired by the skin patterns of extinct and endangered species. Bones – once used to build with – are presented are presented within consecrated architectural artefacts on top of volcanic stones, heavy with the smell of mint and lavender. Celebrating the earth’s unique ability to create life through decay and reincarnation, this living architectural entity is designed to become a habitat for non-human species before degrading and becoming food for the soil.

Yussef Agbo-Ola. Image: Francesco Allegretto

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions organised by La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK’s artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture. They also continue British Council’s work in supporting peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide.

From the first International Architecture Exhibition at the pavilion in 1991, the British Council has invited high profile names to curate and show. Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, Farshid Moussavi and Richard Rogers have all contributed alongside other emerging and established architects, designers, artists and engineers. The British Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura aims to create debate that both challenges and influences the future of British Architecture.

Since 2012 the British Council has commissioned the exhibition through an open call. Curators have been encouraged to use the pavilion as a space for research, alongside showcasing pioneering architecture and challenging ideas.

At Therme Art and Therme Group we are beyond excited and grateful to be supporting this year’s British Pavilion by The British Council, and are thrilled to see new collaborations flourish under an aligned vision and commitment to provide wellbeing through new forms of cultural production.