Pope Francis praises artists at prestigious international exhibition

Pope Francis is the first pope to attend the Venice Biennale, which is a prestigious international art exhibition featuring art, architecture, dance, cinema and music.

Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education and curator of the Holy See’s pavilion, welcomed the pope inside the prison chapel, which was decorated with dozens of festoons made from colorful fabrics, knits and other objects hanging from the ceiling.

In attendance were other curators, special guests and artists whose work was showcased in the pavilion: Maurizio Cattelan, Bintou Dembelé, Simone Fattal, Claire Fontaine, Sónia Gomes, Corita Kent, Marco Perego and Zoe Saldana and Claire Tabouret.

“We must not forget that in the history of the church’s relationship with the arts there have also been ambiguities and harsh tensions,” the cardinal said in his remarks.

The pope’s visit to the biennale was a clear sign of ushering in “a new style” where different views can be “woven” together in freedom as part of a more “authentic journey we can make together” rather than an “obsessive assertion of power,” the cardinal said.

“This pavilion is a testimony to that,” he said, because they did not seek out “safe” artists but invited people to present what they themselves see. “In this sense, we chose to be tenants and neighbors rather than hosts.”

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet and thank the artists personally; “the world needs artists,” he said.

Pope encourages artists to see with another’s eyes

“It would be important if the various artistic practices could establish themselves everywhere as a sort of network of cities of refuge, cooperating to rid the world of the senseless and by now empty oppositions that seek to gain ground in racism, in xenophobia, in inequality, in ecological imbalance and aporophobia, that terrible neologism that means ‘fear of the poor,’” he said.

“I beg you, fellow artists, to imagine cities that do not yet exist on the maps: cities where no human being is considered a stranger,” he said, referring to the biennale’s theme, “Strangers Everywhere.”

“We are proposing to be ‘brothers and sisters everywhere,’” he said.

The Holy See’s pavilion is dedicated to the theme, “With my eyes,” and the pope said, “We all need to be looked at and to dare to look at ourselves.”

Jesus looks at everyone with “a love that does not judge but knows how to be close and to encourage. And I would say that art educates us in this type of outlook, not possessive, not objectifying, but neither indifferent nor superficial,” he said.

The pope criticized the predatory exaltation and commercialization of art that risks “preying on creativity, stealing innocence and, finally, coldly instructing on what is to be done.”

He also encouraged listening to women artists “because they have something important to teach us. I am thinking of artists such as Frida Khalo, Corita Kent or Louise Bourgeois, and many others.”

“I hope with all my heart that contemporary art can open our eyes, helping us to value adequately the contribution of women, as co-protagonists of the human adventure,” he said.

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