May 19, 2024

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Venice Biennale: The Pope makes a historic visit and declares that “the world needs artists”

Venice Biennale: The Pope makes a historic visit and declares that “the world needs artists”


Venice
CNN

Pope Francis The Pope became the first pope to visit the Venice Contemporary Art Festival during a trip that saw him visit a women's prison and rehabilitate the reputation of a pioneering American nun.

The 87-year-old pope traveled to the northeastern Italian city by helicopter on April 28, landing at the prison on the island of Giudecca in the Venice lagoon, which the Holy See has controlled throughout the eight-month biennale.

The pavilion, curated by Chiara Parisi and Bruno Racine, and titled “Con i miei occhi” (which means “With My Eyes”), reflects the pope’s interest in those outside society, especially prisoners, and includes works by several female artists. Francis began his trip to Venice by greeting each of the approximately 80 prisoners in the prison yard, many of whom were participating in the exhibition.

Some prisoners' poems were hung on the prison walls, while others appeared in a short film by Italian director Marco Perego and his wife, actress Zoe Saldaña, star of the movie “Avatar.” films. (Saldana plays a prisoner on the day she is released alongside other prisoners.)

“It is ironic that being in prison can represent the beginning of something new… as symbolized by the artistic event you are hosting,” Francis told them. “Let us not forget that we all have faults to forgive and wounds to heal – me too.”

Vatican media via Getty Images

Pope Francis is the first pope to visit the contemporary art exhibition.

Afterwards, in the prison chapel, the Pope met with artists participating in the Biennale and the Holy See Pavilion, where he told them that their work could help address racism, xenophobia, “ecological imbalance,” “fear of the poor” and inequality.

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He stressed that “the world needs artists.”

His meeting with them also marked the rehabilitation of Coretta Kent, known as “Pop art nun“, whose works are included in the Holy See's pavilion but who in the past have faced resistance from a powerful cardinal. During his address, the Pope singled out Kent – along with Frida Kahlo and Louise Bourgeois – as artists whose works have “something important to teach us.”

Kent, a religious sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community in Los Angeles who later left the order, was best known for her colorful screen prints that raised awareness of racial injustice and advocated for civil rights. But in the late 1950s and 1960s, her progressive religious order clashed with the then-Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, James MacIntyre, who took a particular dislike to some of Kent's artwork, calling them Rowing.

Vatican media via Getty Images

For 2024, the Venice Biennale has taken on the theme “Foreigners Everywhere” and seeks to highlight artists from marginalized backgrounds.

Despite suffering bouts of ill health in recent months, Francis appeared energetic and engaged while in Venice on a trip that lasted just five hours and was packed with events. At one point, a local journalist joked about the weather and said so Every time he goes to prison Asked: “Why them and not me?”

Francis traveled around Venice on a motorboat, an open-air golf cart with the Holy See emblem on it, and on his wheelchair, something he used increasingly because of mobility difficulties.

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Besides the trip to the women's prison, Francis also held a meeting with young people, presided over an open-air mass in St. Mark's Square, led a noon prayer on Sunday, and prayed before the relics of St. Mark in the church. .

During his sermon, he warned of the threats facing Venice, including those from climate change, saying that rising sea levels meant the city “may cease to exist” and spoke of the need for “proper tourism management.” His visit comes after a few days Venice has begun charging an entrance fee for day hikers.

The Vatican first entered a pavilion into the Biennale in 2013, but this is the first time it has displayed a pavilion in a prison. The 2024 Pavilion was commissioned by its Cultural Office, which is headed by the Portuguese Bishop, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, an award-winning poet. The cardinal explained that the pavilion is an attempt to engage visitors “Directly actually.”

As it is a working prison, those visiting the Holy See wing must hand in their mobile phones, while the facade of the building is covered with a mural depicting the dirty soles of two feet. Maurizio CattelanHe is famous for his statue of Pope John Paul II after he was struck by a meteorite.

First held in 1895, the Venice Biennale takes place every two years, and each country has its own pavilion (the Vatican is the smallest sovereign territory in the world). In 2024, it takes on the theme of “Foreigners Everywhere” and seeks to highlight artists from marginalized backgrounds.

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