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Zimbabwe Biennial Delayed Amid Violent Government Crackdown on Protesters

Following the biggest government security crackdown Zimbabwe has seen in years, the Bulawayo Biennial has been postponed from October 2019 to October 2020. Curator, artist, and biennial organizer Sithabile Mlotshwa had planned a program featuring the work of sixty artists and exhibiting performance, architecture, and installation in pavilions and public spaces across the city, but the country’s precarious political climate has forced it to be delayed, reports the Art Newspaper.

The crackdown began on Monday after protests broke out following the announcement that fuel prices would be more than doubled (they are now among the highest in the world). The state has since deployed military forces to the streets of several cities, including Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest metropolitan area; raided homes and shut down internet access to prevent activists from organizing; arrested between four hundred and six hundred people (mostly for public order offenses and without bail); and killed at least five people. 

Mlotshwa initiated the project last year after working on the 2014 Yango Biennale in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after which she felt there was a need for a similar event in Southern Africa.

“More and more such art events must take place on the continent, so as to build a local audience for the local artists,” said Richard Mudariki, one of the artists who represented Zimbabwe at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where the country has had its own pavilion since 2011. “Very few young people in Zimbabwe now know any of the currently successful contemporary artists, rather people in Europe or the US know about them. So, if events like these allow for local engagement with the local people, I truly support it.”