May 14, 2024

Abraham Oghobase: From York University to the Nigeria Pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale

Every other year, the art world converges in Italy for the Venice Biennale, a prestigious showcase of contemporary art from around the globe. Among the myriad of talents featured at the 2024 biennale, Abraham Onoriode Oghobase, an alum of York University’s Graduate Program in Visual Art (MFA 2022), will display his work at the Nigeria Pavilion.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Oghobase now resides in Toronto, where he continues to push the boundaries of visual art. His photography-based practice tackles themes of knowledge production, land, colonial history, and representation, prompting viewers to reconsider familiar narratives and question established power structures.

Abraham O. Oghobase

Oghobase is part of a select group of artists chosen to represent Nigeria in the country’s second-ever pavilion at the Biennale. Titled “Nigeria Imaginary,” the pavilion explores history and culture, filling a semi-restored palazzo in Venice’s Dorsoduro district with projects that offer nuanced perspectives on Nigeria’s past and present.

“During my time at AMPD and York University, I had a great experience,” Oghobase reflects, “I benefited greatly from the exposure to various texts and readings and the rich exchanges and critical discourse I engaged in with my peers and professors in the MFA program and wider department.”

He continues, “Courses like Methods in Practice-Based Research and the Goldfarb Summer Institute (about engaging photography and archives), and guidance I received while working on my thesis project helped me to reflect more deeply about my own practice and develop more rigour in my form-making.”

Oghobase’s pieces featured in the pavilion challenge conventional narratives through digital manipulation and strategic appropriation of colonial imagery. These artworks prompt new perspectives on memory and contest established power dynamics. Regarding his contributions to the Nigerian Pavilion, Oghobase explains, “I have presented a selection of images from four bodies of work – Rock Study (2018); Life of Mine: Schematic II (2023), Colonial Self-Portrait (2018-2023) and Variations on a Theme (2024), which together, offer an exploration of colonial history and resource extraction on the African continent, in conjunction with representation within institutional archives.”

Abraham Onoriode Oghobase – Installation view, Nigeria Imaginary at the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia, Photo Credits: Marco Cappelleti Studio

Being one of the eight artists selected for the Nigeria Pavilion (only the second outing for Nigeria in the Biennale’s history) is definitely an honour and privilege,” Oghobase expresses, regarding the significance of his achievement. “It definitely signifies an acknowledgement of my practice in some ways, which to be honest gives one a boost of confidence to continue on your path.”

He concludes thoughtfully, “I’m certainly grateful for the platform and the attention that being in Venice has provided, but I’m aware that the art world can be fickle and tomorrow is uncertain. I prefer to remain open and grateful for the opportunities and keep on my practice journey – trusting my instincts about the ideas and forms that interest me and continuing to develop my artistic language.”

Reflecting on Oghobase’s journey, Nina Levitt, the Graduate Program Director of the Visual Arts Program, shared, “Abraham came into our program with outstanding work already under his belt, and had participated in many impressive international exhibitions. I was honoured to have worked with him for two years and served as his Thesis Supervisor. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. Intelligent, passionate, politicized and generous. Working with him was a highlight for me among the dozens of graduates I have worked with in 20 years at York.”

Levitt continues, “After graduating, Abraham was included in ‘New Photography 2023’ at MoMA in New York, arguably the most important museum in the world. At the time, I didn’t think anything could top that! Being part of the Venice Biennale this year is certainly something very few artists ever achieve in a lifetime of working. We are delighted at his success.”

Oghobase’s journey from York University to the Venice Biennale is a testament to his talent, dedication, and willingness to challenge the status quo. With his work exhibited in renowned institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Oghobase has established himself as a leading voice in contemporary art.

The Venice Biennale, established in 1895, is today acknowledged as one of the most prestigious cultural institutions. It stands at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends and organizes events in all its specific Departments: Art (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934) – alongside research and training activities.

The Venice Biennale will run from April 20 to November 24, 2024.

Read more about Oghobase and the Nigeria Pavilion at the Venice Biennale at ARTnews.com and in The New York Times.