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  • Jan 31, 2024

Timor-Leste Presents Inaugural Pavilion at 2024 Venice Biennale

Left: Portrait of MARIA MADEIRA. Photo by Dennis Phillip Irwin. Right: Portrait of curator NATALIE KING. Photo by Luke Walker.

*updated on Feb 5, 2022

Timor-Leste’s inaugural pavilion at the upcoming 60th Venice Biennale will present Maria Madeira’s new project Kiss and Don’t Tell (2024), curated by Natalie King. Madeira’s exhibition coincides with the 22nd anniversary of Timor-Leste’s independence from Indonesia.

Born in Timor-Leste, Maria Madeira was evacuated by the Portuguese air force during the Indonesian invasion in 1976. After eight years living in a refugee camp outside of Lisbon, her family immigrated to Australia. Around the time of Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002, she returned to participate in rebuilding the newest nation in Asia. One of the nation’s most recognized international artists, Madeira draws inspiration from her own experiences of displacement and diaspora as well as Timorese traditions and narratives.

MARIA MADEIRA, Lips to Kiss and Don’t Tell – Study III, 2023, tais (traditional East Timorese cloth), red earth, glue, sealer on paper, 22 × 29 cm. Photo by Juventino Madeira. Courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne.

Madeira will use local materials such as tais (traditional textiles), betelnut, earth, and pigments for her site-specific installation at the Venice Biennale. It is a response to the Venice Biennale’s overarching theme “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.” During the opening days of the Biennale, Madeira will stage a series of performances, during which will kiss the walls of the pavilion with lipstick markings. At the same time, she will be singing in the indigenous language Tetun the Timorese mourning song Ina Lou, meaning “Dear Mother Earth,” a haunting refrain that refers to the cycle of birth and death.

King, who previously curated Yuki Kihara’s presentation about the indigenous third-gender Fa’afafine community in Samoa for the New Zealand Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, said: “Maria can imbue [the space] with her visual stories of trauma, hope, and healing . . . The urgency of her tales of matrilineal survival, resistance and cultural activism pay homage to the voiceless women of Timor-Leste.” 

Her exhibition “Flowery Talk” is on view at the Fundação Oriente in Dili, Timor-Leste, where she is an artist-in-residence. She took part in the Biennale Jogja XVI Equator #6, at the Yogyakarta National Museum in 2021, and the ARTFEM Women Artists 2nd International Biennial of Macau in 2020. Madeira holds a PhD in art from Curtin University, Australia (2019).

The Timor-Leste Pavilion is commissioned by the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. The exhibition venue, Spazio Ravà, is located near the Rialto Bridge. The 60th Venice Biennale runs from April 20 to November 24, 2024.

Lin Ai is an editorial intern at AsiaArtPacific.

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