Ghanaian-Scottish architect and academic Lesley Lokko has been named curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, or, simply, the Venice Architecture Biennale. In a press statement released earlier today, the organization announced that Lokko had been appointed as curator by the board of La Biennale di Venezia upon the recommendation of President Roberto Cicutto.
The forthcoming exhibition will be held from May 20 through November 26, 2023, with a pre-opening scheduled for May 18 and 19. The pandemic-delayed 17th Architecture Biennale, curated by Hashim Sarkis, concluded last month after hosting nearly 300,000 visitors and thousands more during the previews. That number exceeds the (obviously non-COVID 19-impacted) 2018 edition of the festival.
Lokko is the first person of African descent to be appointed for the lead curatorial role and only the fourth woman following Kazuyo Sejima (2010) and Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (2018).
Said Cicutto in a statement announcing Lokko’s appointment:
“The 17th International Architecture Exhibition confirmed, perhaps definitively, the need to represent a discipline so closely intertwined with the needs of humanity and the planet in general. The curators of the Biennale’s International Exhibitions have always tried, through the vision of the participants they invite, to afford us as comprehensive an overview as possible of the themes and projects which are suitable for dealing with future scenarios. The appointment of Lesley Lokko as curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is a way of welcoming the gaze of an international personality who is able to interpret, through different roles, her own position in the contemporary debate on architecture and cities, which takes as its starting point her own experience immersed in a continent that is increasingly becoming a laboratory of experimentation and proposals for the whole contemporary world. I believe that this immersion in reality is the best way to dialogue with the questions raised by the 2021 Exhibition curated by Hashim Sarkis.”
Also a best-selling novelist, the Dundee, Scotland-born Lokko is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, and the University of London, where she received her PhD in Architecture in 2007. As an educator, Lokko has taught at a number of institutions around the globe, Iowa State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Michigan, Kingston University London, and the University of Westminster among them. In addition, she served as head of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, which she founded in 2015 as the sole dedicated postgraduate school of architecture in Africa and the only school on the continent to follow the Unit System, a pedagogical method first developed at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.
In October 2020, Lokko resigned as dean of the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York, a long-vacant position which she had been named to for only a little over a year prior. The statement that accompanied Lokko’s resignation was a frank one, in which she noted a “lack of meaningful support” from within the institution and a resultant “crippling workload.” She also cited that the “lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard […] I suppose I’d say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation.”
Following her departure from Spitzer, Lokko, who sat down with AN for a wide-ranging conversation earlier this year, went on to serve as visiting professor at the Cooper Union in New York and the University of Virginia. In addition to holding those positions, Lokko established the African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra, Ghana, a project that she described as having “been in the background for almost two decades.”
Lokko, who served on the jury of the Golden Lion Awards for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, responded to her appointment as curator of the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale with the following:
“A new world order is emerging, with new centres of knowledge production and control. New audiences are also emerging, hungry for different narratives, different tools and different languages of space, form, and place. After two of the most difficult and divisive years in living memory, architects have a unique opportunity to show the world what we do best: put forward ambitious and creative ideas that help us imagine a more equitable and optimistic future in common. Speaking to you from the world’s youngest continent, I would like to thank President Cicutto and the entire team of La Biennale di Venezia for this bold, brave choice.”
AN will report back on the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale when a curatorial theme and participants are announced.