Enterprise Professor Natalie King on curating the inaugural Timor-Leste pavilion for the Venice Biennale

Natalie King is a leading Australian curator, writer and senior researcher engaged with artists and institutions across the Asia-Pacific region. Currently Enterprise Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, Natalie has extensive curatorial experience in contemporary art across Australia, Asia-Pacific and Europe.

Natalie was the curator of Tracey Moffatt’s acclaimed exhibition for the Australian pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale and Yuki Kihara’s exhibition Paradise Camp for the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at the 2022 Biennale. Natalie shares her insights into curating the inaugural Timor-Leste pavilion, Maria Madeira: Kiss and Don’t Tell, at this year's 60th Venice Biennale.

Can you tell us a little bit about Maria Madeira: Kiss and Don’t Tell and the significance of the inaugural Timor-Leste pavilion?

Maria Madeira is the first artist to represent Timor-Leste at the 60th Venice Biennale, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of country’s referendum for independence. As the most prestigious and oldest visual arts event in the world, La Biennale comprises over 90 national pavilions who coexist, side-by-side in the lagoon city of Venice, apprehending some of the most urgent issues of our times.

Concurrently, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere (curated by Adriano Pedrosa) is the main curated exhibition with the concept of a foreigner in tumultuous times across countries, nations and borders. With a focus on diasporic, immigrant and exiled artists, this edition resonates with Maria Madeira’s personal history of multiple migration, exile, forced evacuation and displacement. Moreover, Madeira is incredibly resourceful as there are no art supply stores in Dili so she utilises materials at hand such as diluting the red earth of her village, pulling out threads from the traditional textile tais and using it as fine lines as well as collaging lips across the base of her painting installation.

Madeira was born in Gleno, a village in Ermera, the third of ten siblings within an agricultural family. Timor-Leste was a Portugese colony for 500 years yet within days of leaving, Indonesia invaded in November 1975. Soon after, adolescent Madeira and her family were evacuated to a refugee camp run by the Red Cross on the outskirts of Lisbon. Here she found solace singing in an East Timorese choir songs such as Ina Lou – Dear Mother Earth forming the soundtrack to Kiss and Don’t Tell. It’s a triumph that Madeira’s installation - redolent with pain and healing - is presented at the Venice Biennale. I also feel honoured to curate Timor-Leste alongside other first-time pavilions such as Lagos, Nigeria, Tanzania and Benin.

Source: The University of Melbourne