Latvia’s Riga Biennial Cancels Third Edition Because of Organizers’ Russian Ties

The Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Latvia (RIBOCA), set to open next month after a year-long postponement, has canceled its third edition due to its organizers’ ties to Russia.  

“It appears that the heritage of our executive members, which includes Russian among Lithuanian and Latvian nationalities, is something too significant to overcome as the Russian attack on Ukraine rekindles tensions of an occupied past,” an exhibition spokesperson told Artnet News in a statement.

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RIBOCA’s founder, Agniya Mirgorodskaya, is of Russian and Lithuanian descent, and has, until recently, accepted philanthropy from her father, Russian fishing tycoon Gennady Mirgorodsky. RIBOCA’s Russian backing, already a sore subject for Latvia’s artistic community, given the country’s contentious history with the Soviet regime, became a debate flashpoint following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Last April, exhibition organizers announced that its third edition would be postponed a year given the mounting devastation in Ukraine. “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,” RIBOCA said in a statement. “We strongly condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine and are united with everyone who calls for an immediate end of the war.”

More than 60 artists were planned to participate in its main exhibition, retitled “There is an Elephant in the Room,” which was due to appear in Andrejsala, a neighborhood of Riga. The artist list included 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 invasion. 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.

“We must reconsider the validity of the biennial format in times like these,” RIBOCA said in 2021. “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?”


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