The New York Times
June 8, 2009
By Randy Kennedy
"VENICE – In a city whose sun-bleached facades wear their Islamic influences as proudly as their Western ones, it was nice to see a huge Middle Eastern presence at this year’s Biennale. And for the first time, the event included an official Palestinian exhibition, a show of six works by seven artists that opened to an overflow crowd Saturday night in a former convent on Giudecca island.
The idea for a Palestinian pavilion has been around at least since 2003, when the Biennale’s curator, Francesco Bonami, proposed one in the Giardini, one of the event’s main sites. But the plan was never realized, in part because the Biennale’s rules stated that only nations official recognized by Rome could have pavilions.
This year’s Palestinian show is considered not a pavilion but a “collateral exhibition.” Salwa Mikdadi, an art historian based in Berkeley and the curator of the show, said that it had been difficult to realize because one of the conditions she set when she started planning it six years ago was that it be sponsored only with money from Palestinian institutions and individuals. She views the show as a form of Palestinian resistance, she said, with artists “being free to do what they want, to do the art they wish to do.”Even as the exhibition came together there were some frustrating hitches. Emily Jacir, probably the best-known of the seven artists, proposed a piece in which the names of the Venetian vaporetto – or water bus – stops along one line would be translated into Arabic, with the Arabic names written alongside the Italian names. The idea was approved by the Biennale and the city of Venice. But it met its end somewhere within the bureaucracy of the agency that runs the water buses, so the piece ended up being only copies of new water-bus maps, Arabic ones that made it seem as if history had been rewritten and the Ottoman powers battling the Venetians in the 15th century had won and overtaken the city itself."