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Who is Lesley Lokko? The Woman Breaking Grounds for Africa at the Venice Architecture Biennale

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Lesley Lokko is making history as the first African Curator to manage the Venice Architecture Biennale, which will open to the public on May 20, 2023.

Lokko was born in Accra, Ghana, and raised in Dundee, Scotland. The 59-year-old described the meeting as “an opportunity to talk to the rest of the world about Africa” and vice versa, according to the New York Times. According to her, “the ability to be several things at once – traditional and modern, African and global, colonized and independent – is a strong thread running through the continent and the Diaspora.”

Lokko also mentioned how her dual citizenship has given her the capacity to thrive in varied circumstances and deal with change.

According to the President of La Biennale di Venezia, Roberto Cicutto, this year’s International Architecture Exhibition will focus on “The Laboratory of the Future,” and will strive to examine Africa as the hub of the future of architecture.

Cicutto explained Lokko’s appointment as “curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is a way of welcoming the gaze of an international personality who is able to interpret through different roles, her own position in the contemporary debate on architecture and cities, which takes as its starting point her own experience immersed in a continent that is increasingly becoming a laboratory of experimentation and proposals for the future.” According to Archdaily.

This year’s Biennale will feature Diebedo Francis Kere, Moad Musbahi, David Adjaye, Olalekan Jeyifous, and Nairobi business – Cave Bureau, among others.

Lokko was born in Ghana to Ghanaian parents and a Scottish mother. She recalls having internal self-identity challenges as a result of her multiracial heritage. Her life path has taken her to the United Kingdom, the United States, and Africa, where she has been confronted with themes of race and identity on a regular basis.

In Los Angeles, the 59-year-old’s interest in architecture was piqued. Lokko told The Republic that her boss in Los Angeles had requested her to assist him choose countertops for a new enterprise he was establishing and had shown her a sketch. He later told her she “ought to be an architect” after she used her mother’s art background as an art teacher to create a perspective for him; this affected her decision.

She attended the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, where she earned her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Lokko says that, despite her talent for construction, she found it frustrating. Her desire to find another outlet for her creativity drove her to become a novelist. She has now released twelve novels, the first of which being ‘Sundowners’ in 2004.

The architect’s teaching career began in 2014, when she accepted an invitation to be an external examiner, prompting her to relocate to Johannesburg and create a Post Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. During her time at university, she came to the idea that South Africans needed to make adjustments to their architectural structures, which appeared to encourage the apartheid culture, in order to move on from that horrible era.

Lokko’s passion and unease with race and identity politics found a natural home in South Africa. She made a contribution to the University of Johannesburg by introducing the metric teaching system, which was established at University College, London.

She migrated to America and became Dean of the Anne and Bernard Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, where she encountered bigotry and resigned after a year. In 2020, she returned to Ghana and established the African Futures Institute.

Sharing her thoughts on Africa as a laboratory for the future of architecture, Lokko said, “In Europe we speak of minorities and diversity, but the truth is that the West’s minorities are the global majority. There is one place on this planet where all these questions of equity race, hope, and fear converge and coalesce, Africa. At an anthropological level, we are all African, and what happens in Africa happens to us all.”

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