29.05.23 - Associate Professor Aziza Chaouni presents Modern West Africa: Recorded at the Venice Biennale

Reflecting her preservation work across three African countries, the exhibition Modern West Africa: Recorded was recently unveiled by Associate Professor Aziza Chaouni and colleagues at the 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Through her architectural practice—Aziza Chaouni Projects (ACP)—Chaouni has been leading, with support from the Getty Foundation and the World Monuments Fund, the conservation and adaptive reuse of three publicly owned modernist buildings from West Africa’s post-independence era: The Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Station (Morocco, 1960–1965), La Maison du Peuple (Burkina Faso, 1965) and the Centre International du Commerce Extérieur du Sénégal (Senegal, 1974). 

Modern West Africa: Recorded explores these sites through oral histories and stakeholder testimonials in a short film and corresponding exhibition that invites viewers to understand the past and present of these spaces, in order to speculate on their futures.

“The complexity of each site necessitated a methodology based on listening and exchange, and a commitment to collaborative design with owners, operators and communities,” says Chaouni. “International conservation movements have decentered African modernism, with no works appearing on the UNESCO World Heritage List, leaving them unprotected and underfunded. Recognizing these histories is key at a moment when Africa faces change.”

This year’s biennale, curated by Lesley Lokko, focuses on the theme The Laboratory of the Future. “For the first time ever,” Lokko says in an exhibition statement, “the spotlight has fallen on Africa and the African Diaspora, that fluid and enmeshed culture of people of African descent that now straddles the globe.”

Led by Chaouni and Dana Salama, an associate at ACP, Modern West Africa: Recorded is included in Guests from the Future, a special project within the Biennale showcasing work that “engages directly with the twin themes of this exhibition, decolonization and decarbonization, providing a snapshot, a glimpse of future practices and ways of seeing and being in the world.”

The 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture is open from May 20 to November 26. Learn more about the sites and watch the short film at modernwestafrica.org.

Banner images: 1-2: Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Station (Morocco, 1960–1965), doublespace photography; 3-4: Modern West Africa: Recorded exhibition at the Venice Biennale courtesy Aziza Chaouni.