Grenada and Mongolia used similar tactics. Gantuya Badamgarav, Mongolia’s most vociferous art patron, also enacted a Kickstarter to help get the nomadic nation to Venice. Alas, the campaign only generated $820 dollars, a mere fraction of the $200,000 it was aiming for. But, through a government-promoted fundraiser and local businesses of Ulaanbaatar, the pavilion found its Medicis.
It’s not difficult to conceive why governments would actively engender this opportunity—culture entices tourism, and art signifies a healthy social ecosystem. But it’s not just good PR that these nations are seeking. Unen Enkh, one of the two artists representing Mongolia, who asked to be not quoted directly, sums it up best: These artists are not making folk or tribal art, but rather are engaged in contemporary practices, a notion unfamiliar to most art world perceptions of these countries. His work, for example, incorporates horsehair, felt, leather, and other natural materials found in the steppes of Mongolia, but he manipulates them in unnatural ways, a conceptual twist that skates between two realms. He shows alongside Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, who presents a performance piece (captured on video) of his self-created “ger,” or home-structure that he erects in the midst of big cities, on beaches and highway shoulders. The work is sophisticated, and would be right at home in many of the contemporary institutions of Berlin, New York, or Hong Kong.
Badamgarav has passionately expressed that the works in this show convey “the sense of importance Mongolia plays not only in politics, economy and history, but in the international art world.” The sentiment is shared by the small Caribbean nation of Grenada, which found support through a cooperation of its Ministry of Culture and National Arts Council, who then petitioned private (mostly tourism-sector) donors. Its official press release states that “in its 41st year of independence, Grenada will take a great leap forward and be seen for the first time on the largest and oldest world stage. Grenada may be among the smallest of countries to participate in la Biennale di Venezia, but the passion of its artists brings a large presence.”
“Hopefully the Biennale will be the catalyst to get people engaged,” adds Camille, whose perspective unifies these new national inclusions. On the other hand, the largest of the lot, Mozambique, a country of almost 26 million, may not have been so lucky as these tiny countries. The only country to be showing at the Arsenale—the rest are in off-site Palazzos, mostly in the Venetian neighborhood of Canareggio—Mozambique, as of press-time, had installed nothing but text. It shares a space with the Indonesian pavilion, organizers of which reported that the Mozambique contingent “showed up three or four days ago saying they’d be back in two or three days.” No one has heard from them since. The Biennale has not issued an official statement as to their whereabouts, but the rumor mill suggests the works may currently be held up in customs or worse, held captive at Marco Polo airport. But no one knows for sure, and no representatives from Mozambique were available for comment.