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Saldana and Perego by Lorenzo Sisti

The Holy See Pavilion Offers a New Look at The Vatican’s Take on the Biennale

“With My Eyes,” the Holy See’s contribution to the 2024 Venice Biennale, will be held from April 20 to November 24 inside Giudecca Women’s Prison and will feature artistic contributions by inmates. Visits to the Pavilion are offered in tours, led by participants who reside in the prison.

The Holy See, the governing body of the Catholic church, will present its eleventh pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. Special for this year, it will mark the first time a current Bishop of Rome will personally visit the exhibition. Pope Francis announced his forthcoming trip on April 28—a signal of a historic papal turn toward contemporary art. The decision to visit is especially meaningful considering this year’s theme of human rights, reflected in its setting in a prison. 

Last year’s pavilion focused on the garden, but this year’s places visitors in a radically different environment: Giudecca Women’s Prison. The Pavillion’s inclusion of diverse perspectives echoes the “urge for the multifaceted dialogue proposed by Pope Francis.” 

Holy See Bintou Tintype by Max Li. Courtesy of Dicastery for Culture and Education of the Holy See.

Curators Chiara Parisi and Bruno Racine named the pavilion “With My Eyes,” a title which implores closer inspection by its audience. The phrase references Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141, “I love thee not with mine eyes,” a statement that itself harkens back to Christian scripture: “Mine eyes have seen thee.” The title is a reminder to interrogate the gaze through which we look, especially when looking at those different from ourselves. Not only will the pavilion be physically displayed in the prison, but its residents have been included in making the art on display. The works are posed to reckon with notions of freedom, retribution, and prejudice.

The pavilion lineup includes work by artists Maurizio Cattelan, Bintou Dembélé, Simone Fattal, Claire Fontaine, Sonia Gomes, Corita Kent, Marco Perego & Zoe Saldana, and Claire Tabouret. The pavilion’s offerings include workshops, installations, dance, cinema, performances, and painting. The artists will also contribute to “L’Osservatore di Strada,” a special editorial project that incorporates direct collaboration with incarcerated women, empowering them to become active participants in the editorial process. 

Holy See Courtesy of Dicastery for Culture and Education of the Holy See.

Works by the late Sister Corita Kent will be on display in the facility’s cafeteria, whose Pop Art articulation of social and religious messages echoes the modern mission of the pavilion. Also notable among the pieces offered are a short film by husband-and-wife duo Perego and Saldana as well as choreography by Bintou Dembélé. The film, shot inside the Giudecca Women’s Prison, features performances by inmates as actresses. Dancer and artist Dembélé’s choreography will feature inmates as dancers, performing their own stories from their points of view. These works challenge perceptions of people convicted of crimes, allowing the women to reframe their existence on their own terms. 

The idea of sight remains at the front of the pavilion’s organizers’ minds. In a press conference, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça remarked on that loaded verb, to see: “The contemporary world prefers to metaphorize the look: seeing with one’s own eyes confers a unique status to vision, as it involves us directly in reality and makes us not spectators, but witnesses. This is what religious and artistic experience have in common: neither of the two ceases to value the total and anticonformist implication of the subject.”




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