2020 sees the National Arts Council overseeing the largest art exhibition ever seen in Seychelles. The Byenal Sesel of contemporary art will open on April 25th and will feature art works by more than 40 artists – Seychellois, residents and international participants. It is intended that for the first time the Biennale will extend to Praslin and La Digue as well as occupy three venues on Mahe: Kenwyn House, Eden Art Space Gallery and Carrefours Gallery.

The Biennale, which is being curated by Martin Kennedy with NAC’s Vivienne Croisee, will be open for one month and will feature the work of 22 Seychellois artists, two of whom currently live and work overseas. They will be joined by about 20 international artists, the most famous of whom – Yoko Ono – will exhibit a piece of video art on Mahe and Prasin. In all some 15 countries will be represented.

Preparatory work has been going on since October 2019 when artists were invited to respond to an ‘open call’ to create work to the theme of ‘Lost and Found’. Artists were then selected and local participants received their first (of three) studio visits at the end of last year. These visits are important according to the curator, who says that ‘when we meet the artists we are able to discuss the detail of the project as well as identify ways in which the NAC can support them in the realisation of the work. Seychellois artists have embraced the theme enthusiastically and ambitiously and, in most cases, have already started work creating the components for the exhibition.’

At the same time the curators have been communicating with overseas artists with regards to shipping work to Seychelles and, in the case of artists who intend to come to Seychelles, accommodation and flights. The expenses relating to international artists are being met by overseas arts councils or private sponsorship.

Such support is vital to any art event of this nature and in Seychelles the NAC has already received valuable pledges from Vijay Construction which, in addition to sponsoring one of the main prizes, is also providing technical and logistical support. Martin Kennedy explains: ‘All of the Mahe locations will require temporary alterations to be made in order to house the wide range of work we intend to show. Artists showing video installation work with audio will need enclosed exhibition zones which will need to be fabricated. This is why we will be finalising the exact requirements of the artists within the next few weeks.’

In addition to partitions and electrical feeds the Biennale will require projectors, audio systems and other technical hardware and software. Every artist has different and unique requirements in terms of space and equipment. ‘We have very few artists who intend to display only paintings’ Vivienne Croisee observed, ‘the majority of both local and international artists plan to exhibit installations. This is what makes the Biennale so different from other Seychelles exhibitions – especially for Seychellois artists. Normally they have to remain mindful of the art market here, where figurative paintings are preferred, however for the Biennale – which is a non-selling show – they can focus on the concept and explore new and exciting areas for development.’

There are plans to run a free ‘Biennale Shuttle Bus’ which will transfer art lovers from Kenwyn House to Eden Plaza and back again, as well as to have trained and informed staff present at major venues where they will be able to meet and greet visitors and answer any questions about the work on display.

Two catalogues will be published to mark the event, the first at the start of the Biennale and the second after the work has been exhibited for two weeks. Kennedy explains that the first will include information about the artists and examples of their prior work whilst the second will feature images of the final work being presented at the Biennale. The two catalogues will, together, provide a comprehensive record of the event and will have an important archival value. In addition there are plans to produce a film of the Biennale and an education pack which will help teachers make the most of the opportunity to take students to interact with the displays.

Substantial prizes will be awarded by a team of international judges headed by George Camille. George won the last Biennale to be held in Seychelles in 2017.