Home Arts Riga Biennale canceled after outcry over organizers’ Russian ties

Riga Biennale canceled after outcry over organizers’ Russian ties

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The organizers of the International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Riga (Riboca) have ended their third edition following an outcry in Latvia over their links with Russia.

Riboca was founded by Agniya Mirgorodskaya, the daughter of a Russian fishing magnate, Gennady Mirgorodsky, and Anastasia Blokhina, previously director of external communications at the Erarta Museum in St. Petersburg. Inese Dabola, who worked for the Latvian Foundation of Petr Avena Latvian-born Russian oligarch who is now under European Union sanctions because of the invasion, is the executive director of Riboca.

A declaration published on the Riboca website last week reads: “Despite our engagement with the local cultural community over the past seven years and efforts to revise our funding structure after the start of the war, it seems that the legacy of our executive members, which includes Russian among Lithuanian and Latvian nationalities, is something too big to overcome as Russia’s attack on Ukraine reignites tensions from an occupied past.

The statement continues: “We have been forced to confront the difficult reality that what we provide may simply be inappropriate or unwanted in these trying times, however benevolent our intentions. Additionally, in the best interests of our team and the well-being of the artists, we have decided to suspend our efforts.

Zanete Liekite, a Latvian writer and curator who campaigned against the biennial, said The arts journal“This discussion is not about ethnicity, despite Riboca’s attempts to conveniently shift the focus. It focuses on the critical issues of ethical funding, transparent organizational practices, and the need for a respectful attitude toward post-colonized nations, which the institution in question has failed to fulfill.

Collectors website recently published Liekite’s discussion with Maija Rudovska, another curator critical of Riboca, and Maija Kurševa, a Riga-based artist who withdrew from the biennale, describing how the Latvian art scene had become dependent on tied money to Russia. Liekite, who spent time in New York, compared it to art funding there. by the Sackler family as the opioid crisis raged and by Warren Kanders, former Vice President of the Whitney Museum, while in the tear gas company.

Riboca was originally postponed to 2023 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and was scheduled to open in August, with There is an elephant in the room as the main project, organized by the Danish collective Superflex. The German René Block was responsible for the overall concept of the biennale and for curating other exhibitions, including “Intermezzo”, currently on view at Kunsthal 44Møen in Denmark under the Riboca banner.

An earlier statement from Riboca before the latest postponement indicated that biennial funding had been restructured coming through Just A Moment, a new US charity registered by Mirgorodskaya and her husband, William Pokora, an American real estate investor. He also pointed out that the organizers of the biennial, which “include Russian, Lithuanian and Latvian nationalities”, had focused in 2022 on helping Ukrainian refugees by opening Common Ground, “a social initiative center” for help them at Riga City Hall. Mirgorodskaya noted in a May interview with Arterritorya Latvian publication: “After the start of the war, we refused any funding from Russia even though my father’s company was not under sanctions.”

In comments to The arts journal via a publicist, Mirgorodskaya said, “I am as much Lithuanian as I am Russian and have had a close relationship with the Baltic countries throughout my life.” She said Riboca’s aim was to offer “international and Baltic artists the opportunity to engage with the city and its history”. Dissociating herself further from Russia, she said, “I spent almost a decade living in London and New York, so I’ve been living outside of Russia for about 15 years now.”

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