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The title of the 60th International Art Exhibition is drawn from a series of works made by the collective Claire Fontaine since 2004: neon sculptures in different colours rendering the expression “Foreigners Everywhere” in multiple languages. The expression was, in turn, appropriated from the name of a collective from Turin that in the early 2000s fought racism and xenophobia in Italy: Stranieri Ovunque.

The backdrop for the work is a world rife with multifarious wars and crises concerning the movement of people across nations, territories, and borders. These crises reflect the perils and pitfalls of language, translation, and nationality, in turn highlighting differences and disparities conditioned by identity, nationality, race, gender, sexuality, freedom, and wealth. In this panorama, the expression “Foreigners Everywhere” has several meanings. Firstly, wherever you go and wherever you are, you will always encounter foreigners—they/we are everywhere. Secondly, no matter where you find yourself, you are always truly, and deep down inside, a foreigner.

This section focuses on the production of four subjects: the queer artist, often persecuted or outlawed; the outsider artist, located at the margins of the art world; the self-taught artist, the folk artist and the artista popular; the indigenous artist, frequently treated as a foreigner in their own land. 

Chaouki Choukini has spent over six decades reacting materially to how landscapes evolve and how societies shapeshift throughout history. He settled in Paris in the early 1990s and has continued his work with mostly vertical sculptures up to the present day. While he has worked with bronze, stone, and other materials, this selection of works illustrates his mastery of freeform wooden sculpture, his main craft. His fascination with wenge wood, native to Central Africa, goes hand-in-hand with his use of other African woods in his practice. Besides wenge, the selected pieces also boast carvings in iroko, sipo, and bubinga hardwoods, with occasional uses of oak. For Choukini, wood is a material that is deeply connected to the very earth he examines in his work. His chippings and scrapings normally follow the natural direction of wooden fibres. Be it horizons, abstract concepts, human figures, aerial views of land, bird flights, celestial figures, or tragedies, he treats these themes with inventive geometries and curves. Choukini’s three-dimensional works, dancing between rough and polished, presence and absence, may well be the “second life” of the watercolour sketches that generally impel his pieces.

This is the first time the work of Chaouki Choukini is presented at Biennale Arte.

—Daniel Rey

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