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The Artist Who Burned the U.S. Flag Raises a New One in Venice

Nobody would accuse the activist-artist Dread Scott of being a diplomat. He would rather dismantle power structures than sustain them. But the “All African People’s Consulate,” he has created as a conceptual artwork along the Grand Canal during the 60th Venice Biennale has quickly become a solid gathering place for the Black community in a city that hasn’t always been hospitable to people of color.

The exhibition is dedicated to an imaginary union of African countries that would protect the rights of its citizens to freely move around the world. It highlights a more difficult reality — one where 30 percent of Africans applying for visas in Europe’s Schengen Area are rejected, which researchers say is the highest refusal rate of any region.

Experiences with the fictional agency may differ. People from Africa, or with African ancestry, receive “passports” and citizenship registration. Others receive a short visa and invitation to be a visitor in the community that Scott is hoping to foster during the Biennale, the international art exhibition that runs through the fall and includes 90 national pavilions (this is one of the many collateral events happening in the city). Already, the artist has issued nearly 190 passports and 250 visas through his program.

The flag outside the “All African People’s Consulate.” National banners have been a running theme in Scott’s work, which seeks to undo systems of power.Credit…Matteo de Mayda for The New York Times

“We are challenging the notion that Europeans can decide when and where Africans can move,” Scott explained. “But we hope it will also be a place to hang out. It’s somewhere where visitors can listen to the Nigerian singer Mr Eazi or get recommendations for the best Ethiopian food.”

The consulate is mostly staffed by Black Italians, organized by Jermay Michael Gabriel, an artist originally from Ethiopia who supported the artist’s project because it resonated with his own experiences in the country.

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