The Brazilian curator of April’s 60th Venice Biennale, Adriano Pedrosa has announced the full list of artists he has selected for the 2024 edition of this defining exhibition. There are 332 of them – most of whom have been marginalised in some way. This list includes two Australian First Nations artists.
The exhibition is called Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, and is divided into two main segments: Nucleo Contemporaneo, which focuses on four subjects – the Foreigner, the Queer, the Indigenous and the Outsider – and Nucleo Storico, focusing on the Global South, with work from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia.
Yirrkala’s Naminapu Maymuru-White and Wathaurung woman, Marlene Gilson’s works will be featured in Nucleo Contemporaneo.
Pedrosa explains the expression Foreigners Everywhere has several meanings for him. “First of all, that wherever you go and wherever you are, you will always encounter foreigners – they/we are everywhere. Secondly, that no matter where you find yourself, you are always truly, and deep down inside, a foreigner. Indigenous artists are often treated like foreigners in their own countries”.
Pedrosa clearly doesn’t really know Maymuru-White!
As Creative Australia (ex-Ozco) said when announcing the selection (which they’re funding): “Known for her historic role as one of the first Yolŋu women taught to paint miny’tji, Naminapu Maymuru-White‘s fluid and unrestrained compositions showcase her as a unique and innovative figure in Yolŋu art”.
And who would be less a foreigner on Yolŋu Country than such a woman? What’s more, she’s at home on both Manggalili land and waters, and in the sky.
As I wrote last October when the artist showed in Sydney, “Dancing in the Sky portrays Milngiyawuy – which is both a river that flows into Blue Mud Bay and the Yolŋu name for the Milky Way. The flow of the river represents the passage of life on earth; while the Milky Way is both a river of stars overhead in the black Arnhemland night but is also the great reservoir of the spirits of those who have died in the Manggalili clan.
“Sometimes her barks are happy just to play abstractly with the mixed metaphor of river and stars; sometimes she can’t resist adding a story-line as well. Stars can have individuality or become a matted texture as they blend into a single light mass over the lightyears they are travelling to the Earth”.
Ballarat-based Marlene Gilson, on the other hand, may well have had to battle to reclaim history and overturning colonial narratives inspired by her Victorian Wathaurung heritage. Infusing her works with rich narratives and spiritual ties to her ancestral land, such as her two totems, Bunjil the Eagle and Waa the Crow, Gilson’s art recontextualises history and showcases her deep connection to Country.
Meanwhile, over at the Australian Pavilion in Venice, the second Indigenous artist selected to be given a solo show there, Toowoomba-born Archie Moore, is embracing his own foreignness. In talking about his project for the first time, Moore says: ‘the phrase ‘kith and kin’ – which he’s calling the exhibition – simply means friends and family. But an earlier Old English definition has kith originally meaning “countrymen” (and also “one’s native land”) and kin, “family members”.
Moore’s presentation explores his Kamilaroi, Bigambul, English and Scottish ancestry through these connections to land and family. His meticulous research into family histories acknowledges a loss of culture and language through colonisation, but also seeks to reclaim and revive these stories and language.
Moore elaborates: “kith and kin is a holographic map of relations which connects life and death, people and places, circular and linear time, everywhere and everywhen, to a site for quiet reflection and remembrance. My search for answers through archives and living memory is a search for the missing, but also an acknowledgement of First Nations peoples’ resilience and continuing presence”.
Moore has delighted in the past with his paper models of churches cut out of Biblical pages – reflecting on the Church’s imposition of itself on his mother’s clan’s spirituality. He’s also surprised with an exhibition of scents – each one bringing back an association from his life – the schoolroom odour of bodies and pencil-shavings was particularly memorable.
In 2017, ‘United Neytions’ was announced for the International Terminal at Sydney Airport. “Its 28 large flags – all designed by Moore – will hang from the dramatic 17-metre high ceiling of the Marketplace”, they said, though I’ve never managed to find them. The designs reflect the diversity of Aboriginal cultures in Australia, and the gentle movement of the flags was intended to produce a calming effect, and a welcoming presence at Australia’s gateway airport.
In 2022, the Queensland Art Gallery presented Moore’s major commission Inert State 2022 which was co-curated by Ellie Buttrose, who’s also curating the artist’s Venice showing. The installation reflected on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1987‑1991 and the need for institutional change.
Buttrose sums up their Venice work: “Archie is looking at his own family history (which includes a 17-year old convict ancestor, and an Aboriginal great-uncle who accidentally killed his own father), but it is very much a history of Australia”.
And at the National Portrait Gallery, Moore is challenging the very nature of ‘the portrait’ with a series of geometrical shapes, according to the NPG:
“Mīal is a composite self portrait made up of 34 geometric monochrome paintings that each represent a part of the artist’s body and replicate the shades of his skin in a high gloss automotive paint. Employing the same technology used to make commercial paint samples, Moore converted scans of his skin into the Pantone colour scale. The politics of skin has long been an abiding concern in Moore’s practice. Mīal expands the parameters of contemporary portraiture into conceptual abstraction, encouraging the audience to consider how skin colour has long been codified and classified, connecting histories of racial profiling to the contemporary moment”.