For the first time in its history, my country, Gabon, will be present at the Venice Biennale, through the participation of one of its most prominent artists: Owanto.

This presence takes on an exceptional character, not only for its novel aspect, but also for what it can represent in terms of new images, discoveries and sharing. While it is true that certain North African and Sub-Saharan countries have attended this event in the past, since the participation of The Congo in 1968, no other Central African nation has been present with its own pavilion.

It is thus both an honour and a challenge for Gabon, for as always, the presence of a southern country resounds like an echo that recalls the others who are not present physically, but in spirit. It is, moreover, an opportunity to break stereotypes and preconceptions that lead to many misunderstandings.

The Venice Biennale, which is contemporary art’s most important scene, will view Gabon’s presence as a cultural revolution. This is how we want to appear. If we were to try to locate the wealth of art in Gabon, we would naturally find the mask, where the face of man turns to infinity, hijacked, distorted through a multiplicity of styles. The mask is a suggestion of the presence of that other being, the elusive one. To wear a mask in our lands is to give life to a deity, a spirit, a genie. This is probably what inspired the greatest artists, including Picasso in his Cubist phase. For the aesthetics of our masks, from simple to complex, hold something contemporary and universal.

The choice of the artist, Owanto, fits perfectly within this legacy as we find tradition and modernity intersecting in her work. We can safely say that Owanto is the vanguard of our culture in the visual arts, and we would like her to inspire the abundant and undiscovered talent of youths present in many of our cities. Due to her mixed origins she bears a double perception that is an expression of a universal world. We appreciate both the unwavering support of the Commissioner, Madame Désirée Maretti, for her tireless efforts and outstanding contribution in achieving the Pavilion of the Republic of Gabon, and the extraordinary collaboration of Mr. Fernando Francés.

The responsibility of my country, and in particular the Ministry of Communication, for which I am responsible, is to promote and invest in youth based on the experience of artists whose fame is established. That of Owanto will continue to grow, while helping to reveal Gabon in the expression of its contemporary art. This enrichment, the result of giving and receiving in a world in crisis, can only be the result of constant effort.

Finally, Go nogé mènè is about bringing tradition into a modern world which is losing its borders; a world in which union means privilege.

Laure Olga Gondjout

Minister of Communication, Post, Telecommunications
and New Information Technologies

(extracted from the Official Catalogue of the Pavilion of the Republic of Gabon: Owanto, The Lighthouse of Memory)