Preparations for the Biennale | Photo: ANSA
Preparations for the Biennale | Photo: ANSA

The exhibition "Rothko in Lampedusa" will put the spotlight on refugee artists. It opens on May 11 in Venice. The goal: To show how refugees and migrants enrich their host countries.

The exhibition "Rothko in Lampedusa" organized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) aims to highlight the creative drive of refugees and how it can benefit communities hosting them. 

The show, curated by Luca Berta and Francesca Giubilei, opens on May 11, to coincide with the 58th Venice Biennale. 

The title of the exhibition - "Rothko in Lampedusa" - refers to painter Mark Rothko and the southern Italian island Lampedusa. Lampedusa is the first stop for many migrants and refugees who arrive in Italy from Africa by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Rothko was not only an acclaimed painter who is widely considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but also a refugee. After fleeing Russia for the US with his family as a child, Rothko became one of America's most acclaimed and successful modern painters. 

In an announcement, the organizers of the exhibition wrote: "If [Rothko] had not been able to explore his artistic potential in his host country, we would not have his extraordinary artworks today. So among the indefinite number of today's refugees, could there be a Rothko of the 21st century?"

Artists hosted by local families

The refugees whose works are on display in "Rothko in Lampedusa" will stay in Venice during the Biennale. For their first week, the up-and-coming artists will be hosted by families who belong to the local network Refugees Welcome Italia, a partner organization of UNHCR that helps families host refugees.

Later on, the artists will reside with students at the Collegio Internazionale on the island of San Servolo, just across from the park in Venice that hosts the Biennale. '

"Through art, people who are fleeing keep their humanity and dignity alive while reigniting hope in their country's reconstruction'', said Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR's spokeswoman for Southern Europe. "Meanwhile, they contribute in the creation of a better future for their host communities made of cohabitation and enrichment in diversity." 

UNHCR's pavilion in Venice will host events, initiatives and meetings until the end of the Biennale, on November 24. 

The Biennale is held every two years in the northeastern Italian city. It is seen as one of the most influential - if not the most influential - art festivals worldwide. The last Biennale was visited by 615,000 people, according to organizers. 

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