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Latvian Biennial Postpones 2022 Edition, Citing the ‘Unimaginable Tragedy’ in Ukraine

The Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Latvia has postponed its third edition to 2023, citing Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The exhibition was planned to take open this July and run to October.

In a statement, the exhibition organizers said, “In times like these, to envision working towards an exhibition that was supposed to be a vast celebration of art, respect and togetherness feels inconceivable whilst heinous crimes are still being committed in Ukraine. We strongly condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine and are united with everyone who calls for an immediate end of the war.”

RIBOCA is one of the largest contemporary art events in the Baltic states and is normally staged every two years. The third edition was titled “Exercises in Respect.”

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In a statement, its curator, René Block, said the exhibition celebrates “the variety of voices it presents across continents and generations, striking both in harmony and disharmony with each other as they come together.”

More than 60 artists were planned to participate in its main exhibition in Andrejsalaa neighborhood of Riga, including Alicja Kwade, Ayşe Erkmen, Richard Wentworth, and Tamar Harpaz. More than half the works are new commissions created in response to Riga’s social and political landscape.

Latvia, a country whose eastern edge borders Russia, has accepted around 6,000 Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the Russian invasion in late February.

The war has sparked the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. The United Nations has estimated that, as of April 1, some 7 million people have been displaced within Ukraine, while more than 6 million refugees have since fled to neighboring countries amid the escalation of violence.

On Wednesday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Vienna, the world’s largest security organization, released a report finding that Russia has broken international humanitarian law by deliberately attacking civilian shelters, including the bombing of a theater in the city of Mariupol in which more than 300 people were killed.

“We must reconsider the validity of the biennial format in times like these,” RIBOCA’s statement said. “There must be discourse on how the art world and biennials can influence and engage societies during periods of war and conflict. What kind of platform for expression and exchange do artists, curators, and our society need?”

The organizers’ statement continued: “This is an unimaginable tragedy where no one should remain indifferent. We express our enormous respect to everyone who does not keep quiet and is helping those in need.”

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