Biennial to address Liverpool's colonial history - Museums Association

Biennial to address Liverpool’s colonial history

The 12th edition of the Liverpool Biennial takes place on 10 June – 17 September
Khanyisile Mbongwa, curator of this year's Liverpool Biennial
Khanyisile Mbongwa, curator of this year's Liverpool Biennial Credit - Bongeka Ngcobo

Liverpool's role in the British empire will be one of the key themes at the contemporary art biennial being held in the city this year, its organisers announced this week.

The 12th edition of the Liverpool Biennial (10 June – 17 September) is being run under the title “uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things”. In the isiZulu language, "uMoya" means spirit, breath, air, climate and wind. The event will will recognise ancestral and indigenous forms of knowledge, wisdom and healing.

The biennial's curator is Khanyisile Mbongwa, a curator, artist and sociologist based in Cape Town, South Africa.

“We invite visitors to enter the city of Liverpool as a site where something productive can happen, as the port city opens itself up to be excavated – laying bare its history of colonialism, role in the trade of enslaved people and the making of the British empire,” Mbongwa said.

“The artists unpack catastrophe by engaging with histories of extraction (people, resources, objects); they re-read cartography by engaging with histories of mapping (trade, architecture, town planning, street naming, public sculptures and monuments); and propose healing by engaging with movements of undoing violence, ‘unholding’ the suffering and centering repair work.”

Tate Liverpool, Bluecoat, Fact Liverpool, Open Eye Gallery, Victoria Gallery and Museum and the World Museum are among the museums and galleries involved in the biennial. New venues for this year include historic buildings such as Tobacco Warehouse and Cotton Exchange, and retail and leisure destination Liverpool One.


The public programme will begin on 10 June with Opening Door, which will allow the invited artists to respond to the theme of uMoya.

The second stage of the public programme (2-6 August), titled The Middle Passage, will centre around the moving image, short films and live activations from Unmute Dance Theatre, a Cape Town-based inclusive dance company, working with local dancers and Trinidadian artist and designer Shannon Alonzo.

The Reflective Return (7-10 September) will take place towards the end of the Biennial, providing a moment for visitors and artists to reflect on the themes of the festival through artist talks, music and listening sessions.

There will be programme of free exhibitions, performances, screenings, community and learning activities and fringe events across the 14 weeks of the festival.

A series of outdoor works will be installed across the city including a large-scale neon by Brook Andrew at Stanley Dock, an installation by Rudy Loewe at Liverpool One, and a new sculptural work by Ranti Bam presented in St Nicholas Church Gardens.

Liverpool Biennial was established in 1998 and is the UK’s largest free contemporary visual arts festival and the country’s first Biennial. Its director is Samantha Lackey, who joined the organisation as its interim director in late 2020. This followed the departure of Fatos Üstek, who resigned as the biennial’s director after 17 months in the role after disagreements with the organisation’s board.

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