Artes Mundi 8: ‘Arts of the World’

1 February 2019

Arts Council Collection’s Acquisitions Coordinator, Grace Beaumont, reports from our recent Curators’ Day event around Artes Mundi 8 at National Museum Cardiff.


Artes Mundi is Latin for ‘arts of the world’, signifying the international focus of this Wales-based arts charity. Founded in 2002, it’s probably best known for its bi-annual exhibition and prize, which takes place in Cardiff. Its mission is to showcase the work of visual artists from across the globe who are concerned with contemporary social issues, as well as providing creative opportunities for local communities. We visited the eighth edition of the show, as part of an Arts Council Collection Curators’ Day in December last year. The shortlisted artists were chosen from 450+ nominees who span 86 countries, resulting in insights from Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Thailand and the US.

The five exhibiting artists not only reside across four continents, there is a satisfying range of media on display here. In the first gallery, Cairo-based Anna Boghiguian’s installation A Meteor fell from the sky (2018) features paintings, drawings and cut-out figures, which reference the steel industry and its political implications. Cold metallic characters between hot-pink walls, they resemble toiling factory workers, narrating histories of the industrial revolution, modernisation and capitalism.

Next is Bouchra Khalili, a French/Moroccan artist who premiers her video Twenty-Two Hours (2018). The work focuses on the radical playwright and poet Jean Genet’s relationship with the Black Panthers. On screen in near darkness, two African-American women recount Genet’s visit to the US in 1970 in solidarity with the Party. In near darkness we see them display images on mobile phones and small monitors, hushed and intense, considering the significance of this moment in history and Genet’s revolutionary legacy.


Trevor Paglen is an American artist who lives and works in Berlin. Displayed is a selection of photographs from his two ongoing series’ The Other Night Sky (2007- ) and Limit Telephotography (2005- ).

These projects examine secret satellites and US military bases, featuring images taken using high-powered telescopes and data borrowed from amateur satellite observers.

Works such as They Watch the Moon (2010) illustrate kaleidoscopic swirls and cosmic haze, which are superficially beautiful but allude to something more ominous; the hidden powers that be and a population under surveillance.

Antwerp-based French/Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga has created brand new works for Artes Mundi, including a large tapestry (Double Plot) and a mesmerising kinetic sculptural work (Manifest of Strains).

The Arts Council Collection : Artes Mundi 8: ‘Arts of the World’
The Arts Council Collection : Artes Mundi 8: ‘Arts of the World’

The latter involves a number of components and a large circular rail; while one section of this glows red-hot, another features a rock that is magically hovering with the use of electromagnets.

Another section is supposedly coated in acid. Nkanga describes this piece as “a sculptural manifestation of elements; fire, water, air in different state of being”.

Upstairs at the museum, Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative, two-channel video installation Invisibility (2016) depicts dreamlike figures confined to a room, using black and white shadow-play.

These appear like spectres of the past, as part of the artist’s ongoing investigation into perception and storytelling.

Following our tour of the galleries, we were fortunate to listen to Artes Mundi Director Karen MacKinnon in conversation with selector Nick Aikens (Curator at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven). Nick selected the shortlist alongside Daniela Pérez (independent curator based in Mexico City) and Alia Swastika (Jakarta-based curator and writer).

He feels that artistic practice is at its most powerful when it offers alternative perspectives on how we see the world, and our place within it. He explains how each of the five artists we’ve seen has consistently done this, by pushing the varied media they work with and engaging with some of the most important questions we’re currently facing.

Karen has been Director of Artes Mundi since 2013, so this is her third Biennial exhibition. She speaks energetically about Artes Mundi’s emphasis on investigating the human condition, and the principle that art can act as a catalyst for a better future.

There are certainly coexisting themes within this exhibition; each artist weaves a story of a power struggle, hidden or otherwise. There is also an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty, which is unsurprising in our turbulent times. However, the union of these artists, who stand here on the world stage, points toward a more optimistic existence and common ground in an increasingly divided world.



On 24 January 2019 Apichatpong Weerasethakul was named the winner of Artes Mundi 8. The exhibition runs until 24 February 2019 at National Museum Cardiff.


Find out more about Arts Council Collection Curators' Days.


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.