Best of 2009

Best of 2009

Venice Biennale: Union of Comoros
Originally published on June 24, 2009

Union of Comoros.jpg

For their Biennale debut, the Union of Comoros is in participation with a project, Djahazi, by the Italian artist Paolo W. Tamburella. Comoros is a small series of islands located off the coast of Mozambique in East Africa, and Djahazi gets its name from the classic wooden boats the Comoros people used for centuries to transport goods and heavy cargo through the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the international use and presence of the Comoros islands greatly decreased. The djahazi vessel, however, remained a propitious means of transport within the African industry until 2006 when modern freight methods subverted these traditional modes. The boats were forsaken at the docks of Moroni, the main port of the Comoros, and continued to deteriorate on the sea floor.


For the Biennale project, Tamburella resurrected and restored one of the twenty-eight boats found on the sandy ocean floor of the port. With the help of local Comorians, Tamburella restored the vessel to its original state. During the last decades of the djahazi’s use, it was common to see the boats carrying modern cargo containers from large ships to the port of Moroni. As a gesture towards the tradition, Tamburella has loaded a shipping container inside the restored djahazi. In Venice, the vessel is exhibited at the waterfront of the Giardini entrance. As described in the project summary by Octavio Zaya, “[the restored Djahazi] will stand as a metaphor for an ambivalent globality, bringing together hope and despair, hyper-rationalization and avant-garde extravagance, anti-modern nostalgia and exuberant narratives of progress, emergence and emergency…” While these semantics are, perhaps, idealistic, the Djahazi project is a simple and delicate gesture towards the power of tradition in today’s post-modern world.