The Biennale of Sydney returns for its 22nd edition under the artistic direction of Indigenous Australian artist, Brook Andrew. Titled NIRIN, the biennale showcases a diverse range of contemporary artworks across six different venues in Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Artspace, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Cockatoo Island, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the National Art School.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Open from 1 June – 27 September 2020
With its dramatic and immersive collection of objects, Karla Dickens’ installation A Dickensian Circus interweaves histories and narratives of Indigenous people involved in circus shows and tent-boxing troupes from the 1920s to the 1950s. The works remind us that these histories link to contemporary stories of pride, womanhood, racism, incarceration, dispossession, resistance and defiance. Within the domed space of the Art Gallery of New South Wales vestibule, stories spin-out across a heady array of materials from a kind of historical churn – material stories told with a distinctly circular motion that both transforms and transgresses the space, evoking the charged context of the circus and its complicated historical legacy of entertainment and spectacle, agency and entrapment.
The work of Joël Andrianomearisoa develops around a non-explicit, often abstract narration, which can be perceived but to which a name cannot be put. His world of forms weaves his work into sequences often mired in a deep sadness caused by an absence that is impossible to fill. And for that he uses, in no hierarchical order, sound in its immaterial dimension or the book in its hyper materiality, silky textile or rough plastic, black or the most shimmering colours.
The layered painting style of Mostaff Muchawaya’s portraits presented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales emanate both intense dream-like nostalgia and joy. Whereas traditional commissioned portraits often involve a visual dialectic between artist and sitter, Muchawaya’s works are a complex confluence of portraiture and self-portraiture, autobiography and fiction, closely tied to place and memory. His process of painting involves several stages of applying paint and then abrading it, so the materiality of the surface becomes a visual analogy to processes of remembering and recalling, oscillating between familiar, vague and degraded forms and surfaces.
Having begun his artistic career in painting and drawing, when Grau-Garriga was still very young when he became involved in the art of tapestry – a field which he would excel in from the late 1960s, as one of the leading proponents of the contemporary textile art movement. With a free-thinking and innovative spirit, his career spanned painting, drawing, tapestry, sculpture and installation, often utilising those mediums simultaneously within a conceptually strong and engaged practice.
Emily Karaka’s sumptuous, colourful and powerful paintings have long reflected her physical involvement in Māori Land Rights and Treaty Claims issues. Her new series of works are directly indexed to an ongoing political struggle and land dispute at Ihumātao, where Māori protestors have contested a proposed housing development on a sacred area and significant archaeological site, calling for the land to be returned. Through her Ahiwaru tribal group, Karaka has been directly involved in the ongoing struggle, and these paintings tell parts of the story from a position within the process. The works are almost cartographic, creating visual space on each canvas that is tethered to material, cultural and political geographies and languages.
Open from 1 June – 27 September 2020
Ibrahim Mahama’s largescale, immersive installation No friend but the mountains 2012-20 dresses the entirety of the interior Turbine Hall at Cockatoo Island with jute sacks. A crowded patchwork of rich, brown colour and rough and smooth planes, together their marked surfaces mime the gritty materiality and architecture of the former shipyard and penal colony, to reference and stir the histories of labour and incarceration that lay dormant on the island. This work continues Mahama’s material investigation into labour, economic history and production. Taking an almost forensic approach, the artist sees the surfaces of these materials as holding and bearing the physical markers, smells and traces of the networks and industries they previously moved through. No friend but the mountains 2012-20 privileges the private lives of ordinary materials, and their ability to communicate urgent and complex histories to us, expanding our knowing of and being within an interconnected and inherently entangled world.
Colectivo Ayllu/ Migrantes Transgresorxs’ installation at Artspace is ‘a collaborative research and artistic political action group formed by migrants, people of colour, queer and sexual-gender dissidents from the ex-Spanish colonies’. Their brave installation draws upon long memories of colonial pain and inserts contemporary realities of violence from the ‘new dogs’ of racist institutionalised practice that most do not experience. This oppression from the border to the detention centre to modern technologies of control is for the collective an extremely difficult and stressful way of living in the world. As they express: ‘In 2020 we, Black and Indigenous sodomites, are still alive and with wounds we dance the pain away.’
Textile artist, writer and spoken-word poet Taqralik Partridge’s installation subtley navigates personal experiences of passing through the world, continuing cultural knowledge and language, and inscribing Indigenous stories and modes within urgent global issues. Her text work, inspired by a performance by the artist Denilson Baniwa and adapted into Inuktitut by Ida Saunders and Dharug Dalang by Corina Marino, forms its own network of responses to environmental devastation and futures framed within Indigenous ontologies and language.
Fátima Rodrigo Gonzales
Fátima Rodrigo Gonzales’ installation is based on a set from one of South America’s most successful television shows, Sabado Gigante (Gigantic Saturday). Sabado Gigante’s celebrity host Don Franciso was repeatedly accused of humiliating people on air, sexual harassment and attempted rape. In Rodrigo Gonzales’ re-working of the set, she draws attention to its flashy characteristic of fun-fare, dancing and entertainment, whilst behind the scenes this industry has a crude and entrapped legacy.
The Tennant Creek Brio
The Tennant Creek Brio is an artist collective based in the Barkly regional town of Tennant Creek, which is located in Warumungu country in the Northern Territory. Under the direction of artist Rupert Betheras and supported by fellow artist Fabian Brown, Joseph Williams and the more senior David Duggie, the collective quickly gained traction amongst local men. Each artist had been exposed to various traditional forms of cultural expression, i.e. sand, rock and body painting, along with canvas, print, TV, film, social media and religious and protest imagery before joining the Brio.
CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE
Open from 1 June – 11 October 2020
Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian
For the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Dubai-based artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian present installations at Campbelltown Art Centre and the Powerhouse Museum. Exhibited at Campbelltown Art Centre, From Sea to Dawn engages over 2000 altered frames of footage to intervene in and subvert media imagery of migrants and representations of the European refugee crisis. Often sensational at the expense of those fleeing war and disaster, the abundance of such imagery throughout popular media outlets can desensitise and dehumanise the people requiring support, and who do not have access to means of self-representation themselves.
Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre
Fourteen artists from Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre are being shown across multiple locations for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, tracing stories of country as well as struggles with housing and displacement. Beautiful landscapes have been painted onto ‘dollar shop’ bags, a potent material symbol of life on the move. These works explore continuing connection to country, as well as continued cycles of dispossession, while powerfully asserting messages of self-determination to the many who have no connection or understanding of these urgent messages.
Charlotte Allingham is a 26-year-old Wiradjuri, Ngiyampaa woman from New South Wales, with family ties to Condobolin and Ivanhoe. She currently lives in Naarm, creating Illustrations about her culture and identity, and the impacts of colonisation.
Open from 16 June – 6 September 2020
Lawrence Abu Hamdan
“My work concerns itself with listening at the thresholds of sound and voice, and sometimes at these thresholds sound itself becomes image. Many of the sounds at play in my cases are sounds from the background – noise that seeps onto a recording, sounds that leak into phone calls, through walls, across national borders and from voices that transmigrate from the dead to the living. Sound, and by virtue a sonic imagination, is defined by its blurred borders and difficulty to be contained or isolated.” ~ Lawrence Abu Hamdan.
Albert’s work for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Healing Land, Remembering Country, is a new gesture of ‘memory exchange’. Presented as a sustainable greenhouse at Cockatoo Island, the work poses important questions such as: how do we remember, give justice to, and rewrite complex and traumatic histories? It is a continuation of Albert’s practice where the artist engages with sites of historical and inter-generational trauma. The artist invites us all to engage with the histories of place by inviting members of the public to share memories on paper imbedded with local seeds, which in turn are used to heal the land and our memories. The greenhouse is intended to act as a site for reflection, writing, sharing and healing. Baskets made by Indigenous artists from across Australia act as the vessels to hold and care for people’s gifted memories.
Lisa Reihana’s immersive installation Te Wai Ngunguru – Nomads of the Sea, 2019 weaves historical fact with fiction to explore the social tension between cultural leadership, spiritual custom and egotistical desire in the face of foreign political challenge in 19th century New Zealand. Through Storyteller – a mythical figure who slips between masculine and feminine voices – the viewer learns of Charlotte Badger, a pakeha (Western) female mutineer, and Puhi, a proud woman of Ngā Puhi descent who becomes jealous of Charlotte’s rising status.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART AUSTRALIA
Open from 16 June – 6 September 2020 (TBC)
“In my work Wonderland I filmed Muhammed. I met him when I went to my mother’s town. My brother told me about 15fifteen refugees (seven of which were kids), who had fled the war. He had picked them up at the Turkish border, brought them to the city and given them some bread. I bought some clothes and went to see them. Amongst the kids, was Muhammed. He was mute and deaf.”
“I went to his house and shot the video. The video was 40-minutes long and I spent a long time cutting and editing it. It’s a very strong story. Muhammed is from Kobani, but now lives in a refugee camp. Many people have seen the video, and the reality of war. It’s not propaganda. It is not TV. It is not social media. It is reality. He may not be able to speak, but his language is still very powerful.” ~ Erkan Özgen
At Campbelltown Arts Centre, three painted larrakitj – memorial poles made from hollow Stringybark – show Noŋgirrŋa Marawili’s characteristically dynamic mode of painting that brings forth the interconnected energies of places, layering the tangible and intangible forces, phenomena and atmospheres of environments constantly transforming. Marawili’s use of pink tones reflects a recent innovation – after discovering a discarded magenta print toner, Marawili began using ink from disused cartridges, reflecting Yolŋu philosophy that suggests, ‘if you paint the land you should use the land’.Misheck Masamvu
The paintings, drawings and poetry which Misheck Masamvu has produced for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney deal with the struggle against social conditioning, existing as a space where the artist can move beyond the responses which have been forced upon him by systems of oppression and governance.
The above descriptions are sourced from Biennale of Sydney website