We have always lived in Interesting Times: The Venice Biennale.

Mariah Rankine-Landers
4 min readJun 17, 2019

(May You Live in Interesting Times is the theme for the 58th Venice Biennale.)

Getting here wasn’t that easy. I was sick on the plane ride over, left my computer on the plane (remembered while standing in line for customs and bolted back for it like Usain stuck in a configuration of boobs, bootie and belly with a 20 lbs backpack on), and had a white knuckling, shout “Jesus’ name” out loud, plane ride from London to Venice. Ugh.

But my friend and I, arrived safe and sound after midnight and fell straight into bed. The next day, we gave praise to Venetian shutters that block out every ounce of light one needs to maintain a state of “my body still thinks it’s midnight.” It was 2pm by the time we left the house. We wandered up the canal, swerved, right, left, right, crossed a bridge, left, forward, crossed a bridge, swerved right, left, forward again until reaching a street where we could find someplace to serve us our “morning coffee.” Choosing by aesthetics as artists tend to do, we walked into a cute cafe that had a backyard patio. Perfecto. We choose the farthest table in the back, and sat next to two men sipping coffee and nibbling on an assortment of well made tea cakes. We began chatting immediately. Midway into our conversation it was revealed to us that we were talking to one of today’s most coveted authors. I will keep him anonymous for the sake of our beautiful exchange. Some things should just always be sacred. But let me tell you, I swooned and you would too.

That encounter was the sign I needed. I needed a major exclamation mark to land in front of my face. The mark of a good omen! Interesting.

Good omen and all, I will not lie to you, it’s taken a few days to surrender my body to the heat, the motion of tourists such as myself, scuffling along paved ally ways, at the overstimulation of beauty at every gaze.

After a full days rest it was time to seek out the long list of artists who either won the lottery, yelled at their governments, or simply said “sure” to showing their work at the 58th Venice Biennale. We hit up multiple biennale sites around the island before walking into the Zimbabwe Pavilion. As my Insta account, @spill_thestudiopathway affirms, I’ve already noted that it only took a few seconds for the senses to recognize a velocity of expression felt upon setting eyes on the art work of Kudzanai-Violet Hwani. I knew we were in for a treat.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwani, Hole in Heaven, 2019

Quickly, I engaged the pavilion attendent who so happend to be the Minister of Cultural Affairs to Zimbabwe, representing the artists of his country. Soko Risina Musoro, A Tale Without A Head, is the response by Georgina Maxim, Cosmas Shiridzinomwa, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and Neville Starling to the epic poem by Herbert Chitepo. Each artist’s set of works was a stunning expression of the experiences held and navigated by a set of people who find themselves in “interesting times.” The main questions explored by each artists are “What defines home for Zimbabweans in the diaspora?” and “Are African solutions in their past or in new hybridized ideas?” I’m taken with these questions because they are so similar to my own needs and framing for how I contribute and belong in this world. I’ve always lived in a hybridized space, in a mental pull between places, in a body familiar to two sharply contrasting racialized social bodies. I’m an amalgam of racialized experiences that catalog a terain of in’s and out’s, here’s and there’s, up’s and down’s, love’s and hate’s. It’s always interesting.

May You Live in Interesting Times, is a mantra that quickly sticks to your ribs. Like oatmeal. It’s hearty. It allows you take in each artist’s intention with some intentionality for gazing inward but at the same time offers a blanket statement for numbing the intake of the world as it currently haunts us. It eases the absurd political posturing around the world, the ongoing structural and systemic violence against the environment, each other, and our spirits. From a biennale curatorial lens, the statement is a profound invitation to wrestle with difficultly…interesting being a substitution for what is disorderly, hurting, painful (so when you see the “Teresa” scribbled on top of all the biennale stickers, snide snickering is appropriate). However, that’s not the world I want to actively participate in so I am gently exposing the softer side to a phrase that assists you along the path of ingesting the displays of artistic fodder waiting to interest your soul.

May we live in interesting times to watch the seeds of our utopia sprout. May we live in interesting times activating all the love we can muster. May we live in interesting times to see the solutions we’ve carried from mother line to mother line rightfully take center stage, as we tilt the planet into rotations of equanimity.

Image from the film doppelgänger by Stan Douglas, Venice Biennale, 2019



Mariah Rankine-Landers

Mariah Rankine-Landers, Ed.M co-leads Studio Pathways for transformative school and organizational change that centers the cultural and contemporary arts.