Therme Art Program


Therme Art hosted its latest Wellbeing Culture Forum talk in collaboration with The British Council, Liberating Spaces through Collaborative Praxis. The talk was held at the British Pavilion during its unveiling at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Mikolaj Sekutowicz, the CEO and Curator of Therme Art, moderated a compelling conversation with Sumayya Vally, Architect and Founder of Counterspace. This conversation invited a group of Artists, Curators and Architects from the British Pavilion’s Exhibition, Dancing Before the Moon, to delve deeper into the exhibition’s central themes and explore their relevance to this year’s Biennale. Jayden Ali, Sumitra Upham, Sandra Poulson and Yussef Agbo-Ola explored their work and creative practices by outlining the ways in which these can positively shape Great Britain’s future architecture. 

WBCF Liberating Spaces through Collaborative Praxis, Image: Francesco Allegretto


Sandra Poulson, Jayden Ali and Mikolaj Sekutowicz, WBCF Image: Francesco Allegretto

Panellists delved into the intricate relationship between decolonisation and decarbonisation, exploring how diasporic rituals, artistic production, and collaboration can ignite spatial liberation in both social and environmental contexts. By challenging extractive architectural models, urban communities and diasporic groups have the power to transform public spaces, restore ecological damage and dismantle outdated social systems. The theme of this year’s Biennale, Laboratory of the Future, served as a point of departure for exploring essential questions about production, resources and representation in architecture. The focus centred on reimagining diasporic rituals reimagined through architectural fragments.

One of the curators of the 2023 British Pavilion Sumitra Upham remarked on the exhibition:

Sumitra Upham, Yussef Agbo-Ola. Images: Francesco Allegretto

Dancing Before the Moon is an homage to social and environmental practices outside of a western context that demonstrates an appreciation for the natural world: for the sky, the cosmos, other species, communities, for this universe that we share with many things and other species. The idea of dancing before the moon felt incredibly celebratory and collaborative. It represented this idea of collective energy, all these essences that we hoped our pavilion would represent and inspire.

Curator and Artist Jayden Ali further reflected on James Baldwin’s observation:

James is thinking maybe about the relationship and bridging the distance between us and the moon. You know that it’s not othered because it’s so distant. You’re so close to it, so how can you end up doing harm in such a space?

Jayden Ali, Sumayya Vally. Images: Francesco Allegretto

Mikolaj Sekutowicz. Images: Francesco Allegretto

Diasporic traditions, creative expression, and collaborative practices pivoted the conversation, encouraging panellists to observe how these can ignite spatial liberation in both social and environmental spheres. Speakers unanimously agreed that it is feasible to challenge existing architectural models that exploit and exhaust resources by adopting inclusive spatial methodologies that foster collaboration among urban and diasporic communities, which form the majority of our city populations and possess the potential to fundamentally transform our approach to public space creation. Sumayya Vally, whose practice is highly influenced and focused on communicating the rich history and intricacy of diasporic communities in and through architecture, commented on the exhibition: 

As somebody who’s recently moved to the UK…I felt a deep sense of home and belonging when I walked into your pavilion…Thank you for presenting a sense of home we all know and feel in London and the sense that we are all connected across diaspora.

The panellists anchored their discussion around these critical questions, exploring how their creative practices intersect with everyday rituals to challenge established systems and extractive supply chains that harm both bodies and landscapes. The artists and architects within the cohort examined the afterlife, cleansing, music-making, cooking, worship, and healing as collaborative practices and sources of architectural inspiration within the pavilion’s exhibition design. By engaging with past diasporic rituals and envisioning future possibilities, the conversation also delved into the interconnected nature of decolonisation and decarbonisation, striving towards a more equitable and ecologically abundant world.

Artists Sandra Poulson and Yussef Agbo-Ola spoke of their work, practice and use of material in relation to the exhibition and architectural practices at large:

Yussef Agbo-Ola, Sandra Poulson and Jayden Ali WBCF, Image: Francesco Allegretto

And I feel like from the moment that these fragments… they really gain this agency… the institution, even this space that they are in, it sort of no longer really controls the narrative. And the agency comes from how people relate with them… the object is already at work and it has totally abandoned the institution when it enters the space, the private space of someone else’s memory… the way that it is actually able to move and to alter and to exist outside of the institution is a lot beyond the material’s fear. Sandra Poulson

Specifically in the piece that’s upstairs, this idea of a sacred space that commemorates the species that are no longer with us, that are extinct, was really important. All of the species that are around us, nonhuman species, also are our ancestors. So the piece in the work for me was a connection, almost like a shrine or this sacred space that then was able to connect us to our ancestors that are non-human. You know, so for me, that is non-extractive. That is more like a communication channel with other species, but also a monument for them. – Yussef Agbo-Ola

WBCF Liberating Spaces through Collaborative Praxis, Image: Francesco Allegretto

Jayden Ali, whose architectural practice is driven by a profound social conscience, goes beyond the physical structure, delving into the immaterial fragments that shape our cities and foster support within them. He reflects on the impact of physical architectural spaces in shaping and enriching the narrative of history:

What’s really difficult to replicate in our built environment and in architectural spaces is layers of history. And I see this exhibition as just one more layer of history. Some things will leave permanent marks, and it will have impermanence in other ways. For instance, in the sculpture in the portico, some of the supporting structure that straddles the two columns will remain, and it will be in the armature of the British Pavilion for years to come, and they will use it for something else. And that’s great because it can be read with this history that we will hear in this space. But it can’t be a ruin because Sonia was here before us. Steve McQueen was here before her… 

The Special Mention for National Participation was awarded to the 2023 exhibition at the British Pavilion for its outstanding curatorial strategy and design propositions, which beautifully showcased the power of everyday rituals as a means of resistance and spatial practices within diasporic communities.

WBCF Liberating Spaces through Collaborative Praxis, Image: Francesco Allegretto