Lesley Lokko Becomes the First Black Curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale

Lokko, who is influential in academia and opened two architecture schools, will unveil her biennale edition in 2023.

Lesley Lokko Courtesy of Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture

ThVenice Architecture Biennale in Italy has picked Lesley Lokko to curate its 2023 edition, making her the first person of African descent to helm the world’s top architecture biennial. Dezeen reported that she is also the first Black architect to organize the biennial, as well as one of the few women ever to curate it. Lokko’s biennial is set to open on May 20, 2023.

Like its sister biennial devoted to art, the Venice Architecture Biennale has been largely curated by white architects based in Europe. The move could suggest a long-overdue willingness to diversify the biennial’s upper ranks.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, and raised in Ghana, Lokko has been influential within the world of academia, where she has advocated for the notion that architecture is inseparable from race. In 2000, she wrote White Papers, Black Marks: Race, Space and Architecture, and she has since penned several novels. She has also launched two architecture schools in Africa: a postgraduate program at the University of Johannesburg and the African Futures Institute in Accra, where she is currently based. She also founded FOLIO: Journal of Contemporary African Architecture.

Lokko made headlines last year when she resigned from the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, where she began as director in 2019. Speaking to the Architectural Record, she said her resignation came after a lack of support. “The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it’s by no means unique to Spitzer,” she added. “I suppose I’d say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation.”

In a statement about her Venice Architecture Biennale appointment, Lokko hinted that her edition would in some way address the substantial changes that have impacted the world over the past couple years. “After two of the most difficult and divisive years in living memory, architects have a unique opportunity to show the world what we do best: put forward ambitious and creative ideas that help us imagine a more equitable and optimistic future in common,” she said. “Speaking to you from the world’s youngest continent, I would like to thank President [Robert] Cicutto and the entire team of La Biennale di Venezia for this bold, brave choice.”

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