For the first time in its 45-year history, Sydney's biggest contemporary art festival will be directed by an Indigenous artist. Brook Andrew, an artist of the Wiradjuri Nation with Celtic ancestry, will direct the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in 2020, following in the footsteps of Japanese curator Mami Kataoka. Her Biennale closed this week, and according to the Biennale's stats, was attended by 850,000 people across its seven venues, making it the most-visited iteration of the festival yet.
Andrew is known for his research-based work which uses archives to challenge official histories, offering alternate perspectives and telling forgotten stories. But that doesn't mean his works are dry, academic exercises: he's a multi-disciplinary artist, best known for his large-scale sculptures and immersive works, and has exhibited internationally since 1996. Last year his 25-year career was celebrated with a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, The Right to Offend is Sacred, and he was awarded the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF).
The Biennale is a truly international art event – Kataoka had a strong focus on Asian artists this year – and it looks as though Andrew's curation will focus on work by Indigenous artists from Australia and the rest of the world.
He said: “I am honoured to be appointed artistic director of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in 2020. As artistic director, I am interested in shining a light on the active, stable and rich pre-existing collaborations and connectivity of Indigenous and Edge cultures. I aim to work together with artists, collectives and communities, from Australia and around the globe, to reconfigure the world as we see it and reveal rich local and global rhizomes and unique individual cultural expressions in one place.”
Andrew is no stranger to the Biennale and has participated as an artist this year and back in 2010. This year's installation, 'What's Left Behind', featured five sculptural glass display cases at the Museum of Contemporary Art, scrutinising official narratives and "locating Australia at the centre of a global inquisition". His 2010 installation, 'Jumping Castle War Memorial' was a particularly provocative but ironic response to the lack of war memorials to Indigenous people in Australia.
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