Minister Kodwa and Ambassador Jezile open South African Pavilion at Biennale Architettura 2023

Ambassador Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile and Minister Zizi Kodwa  with curators Dr Emmanuel Nkambule, Mr Stephen Steyn and Dr Sechaba Maape at the South African Pavilion
Ambassador Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile and Minister Zizi Kodwa with curators Dr Emmanuel Nkambule, Mr Stephen Steyn and Dr Sechaba Maape at the South African Pavilion

As the global architecture fraternity prepares to gather in Venice, Italy, for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Minister Zizi Kodwa and Ambassador Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile officially opened the South African Pavilion on 19 May 2023 at 10:30. 

South African architecture will examine “The Structure of a People” through the county’s pavilion at Biennale Architettura 2023, which runs from 20 May to 26 November 2023. Held every two years since it was officially established in 1980, Biennale Architettura is often described as “the Olympics of architecture” and aims to propose and showcase architectural solutions to contemporary societal, humanistic, and technological issues.

This year’s Biennale Architettura theme is “The Laboratory of the Future”. Curator Lesley Lokko has centred the continent of Africa as a protaginist of the future; a springboard to talk about economic, climate and political criticalities.

The South African Pavilion was conceptualised around the sub-theme of “The Structure of a People”. This integrates with the broader exhibition theme, and seeks to evaluate the ways in which architecture has defined or impacted our social structures, including how South Africa’s rich indigenous knowledge systems could hold solutions to global issues in this Laboratory of the Future.  

Three South African curators have been charged with conceptualising the 2023 South African Pavilion, namely:

Dr Sechaba Maape, an architect and the director of the design practice Afreetekture. He is also a senior lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) School of Architecture and Planning. 

Dr Emmanuel Nkambule, a senior lecturer in the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). 

And Mr Stephen Steyn, a full-time lecturer and programme coordinator in the post-graduate programme in architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Architecture and Industrial Design. 

The curators have organised the pavilion space through three exhibition zones using about four tonnes of black rope that was made in South Africa. While there is an interplay of light and dark between the zones as visitors move between them, the zones all form part of a coherent, integrated exhibition. 

The first zone is The Past is the Laboratory of the Future, which looks to pre-colonial southern African societies, the Bokoni people in particular, to understand how they structured their societies as documented in a stone carving. This zone is curated by Dr Nkambule. 

The second zone, titled The Council of (non-human) Beings, presents Dr Maape’s contemporary drawings on the topic of animism in architectural practice, connecting to the mythology and indigenous knowledge systems of his heritage. Dr Maape’s work makes use of contemporary experiences and influences, including urban culture like hip hop and the South African musical genre of Amapiano, which emerged in the mid-2010s, to create what he calls Kuru-mytho-futurism. 

The third zone, Political Animals, displays the results of national competition targeted at South African architecture schools, and is curated by Mr Steyn. The competition asked lecturers and students to consider the organisational and curricular structures of their schools, and create architectural models depicting these structures.

“The Biennale will present us with a myriad of innovative solutions to contemporary issues that we are facing globally. That Professor Lesley Lokko has placed such an emphasis on African philosophies, schools of thought, and practitioners is a proud moment, and the hope is that we as a continent can use our moment in the spotlight to our fullest potential,” says Mr Zizi Kodwa, Minister of Sport Arts and Culture. 

To kick off the celebrations, the Department hosted a party with Oskido (Oscar Sibonginkosi Mdlongwa) to celebrate South African culture in an interdisciplinary way; tracing the journey from indigenous knowledge systems to Amapiano. Oskido is a South African co-founder and director of Kalawa Jazmee Records, the legendary indie label that has been in the game for over 25 years. In this time, Oskido has shaped South African urban music, and has been instrumental in the growth of some of the biggest names in South African music including Mafikizolo, Bongo Maffin, Black Motion, Black Coffee, DJ Zinhle and one of the leaders of the Amapiano movement DJ Maphorisa.  

The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture is the main sponsor of South Africa’s participation at Biennale Architettura 2023.

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