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Venice Biennale offers Taiwan a great opportunity to shine

What is the point of participating in an international biennial of architecture? This is the question that Taiwan's public usually asks when the Ministry of Culture (文化部) and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館) announce the country's creative team and project for the Venice Biennial International Architecture Exhibition that unfolds this week in the City on the Water.

Some people might wonder what the fuss is all about, or they may feel that if the money were saved it could be spent on other things that would be of greater benefit to the Taiwanese people. In other words, there is a segment of the public in all societies who will always view funding to promote architecture as a luxury. To them, investing time, money and effort in an Architecture Biennale is not only unnecessary, it's also futile since you cannot experience a country's architecture unless you travel there.

On the contrary, raising the level of appreciation and knowledge of Taiwan's architecture among locals may be very important. Even if museums and private institutions have outreach or public education programs, there is still a need for more because architecture is sometimes too “difficult” or “abstract” for the public to understand, especially for people from outside a particular culture. In this sense, the Biennale is a wonderful opportunity to brand Taiwan and present it as forward-thinking, dynamic and sophisticated.

Even though the island nation is not officially listed among the participating countries in the international exhibit, we still ought to be open to taking part -- not only because of new business opportunities, but also because of the new and challenging ideas it presents us with. Taiwanese people should not be afraid of being provoked by ideas that seem foreign. It is through engaging with a view or perspective on the world that is different from our own that we can arrive at a better, deeper understanding of ourselves and how we relate to “the other,” and by being aware of our individual limitations we are better able to appreciate others' individuality and humanity.

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