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At Kapwani Kiwanga’s Pavilion in Venice, Tiny Glass Beads Carry the Weight of History

Her exhibition for the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale lets raw material speak for itself in a subtle yet powerful comment on global commerce.

As we know from our own lives, the tiniest objects can feel, at least symbolically, extremely heavy. Artist Kapwani Kiwanga draws out this aspect—how the minute can be colossal—with an ambitious new project at the Venice Biennale, where she is representing Canada.

Called “Trinket,” the artist explores a seemingly neutral object of diminutive significance which, as Kiwanga illuminates, has shaped the world: a tiny glass bead.

These beads, which are smaller than a lentil, are deeply embedded in Venice’s history, which, as the artist points out, has deep connections with the world. Glass conterie or seed beads were used for international trade and merchants used them as exchange objects for various goods, including an array of raw materials that have been folded into Kiwanga’s poetic exhibition, which was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and curated by Gaëtane Verna, executive director at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

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