“Thank you all for your tremendous belief in my proposed work for the Australia Pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale behemoth,” said Archie Moore, the Toowoomba-born Kamilaroi/Bigambul artist who has been selected. This will make him only the second individual First Nations-identifying artist selected after Tracey Moffatt. Previously, Trevor Nickolls and Rover Thomas had been chosen together to represent Australia in Venice back in 1990; while Emily Kngwarreye, Judy Watson and Yvonne Koolmatrie followed as a trio in 1997.

It was a brave decision to go with Moore, who might be considered less well-known than either Brook Andrew or Tony Albert as Indigenous contenders or Khaled Sabsabi and Yasmin Smith from the non-Indigenous ranks. They were the runners-up. Albert’s project would have been curated by Liz Nowell, Director of The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and Hetti Perkins; while Andrew was in a group project with Atong Atem, Lucienne Rickard, Justin Shoulder, Latai Taumoepeau, curated by Rebecca Coates.

We have yet to discover the nature of Moore’s project but the selection panel that approved it was Yamatji man Stephen Gilchrist, Carol Yinghua Lu, Victoria Lynn, Hammad Nasar and Colin Walker.

Archie Moore is one of the quieter, more reflective artists amongst the urban mob – unlike fellow-Brisbanites proppaNOW. My first memory of his work was his suite ‘On a Mission from God’, a series of tiny paper churches delicately cut out of bibles or, like the one illustrated, out of books about an ‘exploited’ artist such as Albert Namatjira. They spoke warmly about the victimisation of his people.

A more personal project was the creation of a series of scents that he’d developed with a chemist to capture personal memories of his schoolroom, his aunts and his studio. Moore has explained that “memory has been in all of my work somewhere”. So, he has created four versions of his childhood home in the Western Downs town of Tara at various stages. Last year, he built one in Melbourne’s Gertrude Contemporary gallery, complete with the smell of Dettol – “which represents for me the fear my mother had of having her children ‘taken away’ if we weren’t looked after, clean enough”, he told his Sydney gallery – The Commercial.

Moore featured in the NGA’s 2017 Indigenous Quinquennial, ‘Defying Empire’, for which he designed the cover image, ‘Aboriginal Anarchy’ – and he’s still wearing the T-shirt proudly in his 2022 portrait. His most significant work for that show was ‘Blood Fraction’ (2015) in which 100 photographs took his face from pure white to ‘Full-Blood’ black. As Steven Gilchrist explained in the catalogue, “It deals with the politics of skin and the words used to classify, quantify and assign meaning based on race. It is in response to various public commentators who question a person’s Aboriginality, authenticity and legitimacy. One drop of Aboriginal blood is all it takes for most Aboriginal people to accept you. But if you’re not ‘Full-Blood’ then you’re not a ‘real Aborigine’ to others”.

At the less-personal edge of his opus, the international Terminal at Sydney Airport is proudly hung with a series of imaginary flags – all designed by Moore based upon the traditional designs of various Aboriginal groups.

Moore’s curator for Venice is the non-Indigenous QAGoMA staffer, Ellie Buttrose, a long-standing member of the curatorial department. She has been part of the team on the flagship Asia Pacific Triennial series of exhibitions since 2015; and has curated many QAGOMA exhibitions and cinema programs including ‘Cut it: Collage to Meme’ 2020, ‘Limitless Horizon: Vertical Perspective’ 2017, and ‘The Otolith Group’ 2013. In 2016 she was managing curator for ‘Cindy Sherman’ and in 2014, for ‘Tracy Moffatt: Spirited’.

Until last month, QAGoMA was presenting Moore’s major commission ‘Inert State’ (2022) in the exhibition ‘Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art’ co-curated by Ellie and the Gallery’s Curator of Indigenous Australian Art, Katina Davidson. The installation, presented in the Gallery’s Watermall, comprised 200 Aboriginal deaths reported in Parliamentary proceedings and coroner’s reports, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1987-1991 and the need for institutional change.

As you can see from his photograph, it was a quiet and thoughtful work, not loud and shouty.

The Federal Minister for the Arts, Tony Burke would seem to agree. “You only have to look at the installation work of Archie Moore to imagine what a perfect choice this is for Australia’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale and how perfect the Australian pavilion is to host this work. The Australian Government committed in our National Cultural Policy – ‘Revive’ – to put First Nations at the centre of Australia’s cultural heart. Opportunities like these help us to understand more about ourselves as Australians, more about each other, and help the world get to know us”.

The Australia pavilion in Venice will be open from 20 April until 24 November 2024, marking our 25th year taking part in the Biennale.