Over 101 artists and collections, including almost 40 Australian artists, bring together the 700 works of the iconic 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

Titled NIRIN, the Wiradjuri word for ‘edge’, the show invites the audience to see beyond their knowledge and to challenge historical narratives in locations across Sydney, including:

  • Art Gallery of NSW
  • Artspace
  • Campbelltown Arts Centre
  • Cockatoo Island
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
  • National Art School.

NIRIN proposes that creativity is an important means of truth-telling, of directly addressing unresolved anxieties that stalk our times and ourselves,” said Artistic Director of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Brook Andrew.

“Most importantly, it is a place from which to see the world through different eyes, to embrace our many edges and imagine pride in ecologically harmonious and self-defined futures.”

“In urgent times of shifting boundaries and conflicts, we desperately need to alter our actions to show respect for ancient cultures. Now is a potent time to heal and feel the rush and tension of new futuristic possibilities.”

The event hosts artwork from many talented First Nations artists and creatives.

NIRIN includes a large-scale work by Kunmanara Mumum Mike Williams, a Pitjantjatjara artist, activist and leader who passed away last year. The work was a political protest piece created alongside young men in his community, his widow Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin and lifelong friend Sammy Dodd.

Also on display is a series of paintings on discarded Western objects showing experiences of home in the Northern Territory by artist collective Tennant Creek Brio.

Gamilaroi/Gomeroi Murri Yinah photographer, Barbara McGrady’s kaleidoscope compendium of contemporary Aboriginal history shown through her life’s work will also be featured at NIRIN.

NIRIN WEIR, meaning ‘edge of the sky’, includes 600 events. One of these is, NIRIN HAVIETA, a restored ferry that displays traditional tattoo markings honouring Pacific Islander women.

At Sydney Town Hall Thelma Plum will take the stage for the ‘To cook Cook or not?’ debate.

The Biennale of Sydney and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) have also announced a four-year Memorandum of Understanding that will see the marriage of the two organisations with Australia’s First Nations communities in projects that celebrate culture.

“AIATSIS is delighted to be working with the Biennale of Sydney to create transformative experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and heritage,” said AIATSIS CEO, Craig Ritchie.

“AIATSIS’ vast collections, comprising over a million items, are a conduit to more than 60,000 years of the national story.”

“By working in partnership with the Biennale of Sydney and First Nations communities, we can help the world to encounter and engage with that story and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s knowledge and cultures are celebrated.”

Barbara Moore, Biennale of Sydney CEO added, “AIATSIS and the Biennale of Sydney are working together to provide platforms that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists, filmmakers, storytellers and writers through commissioning, showcasing and providing access to their ideas and expressions.”

“Both organisations play an important role in Australia’s cultural engagement with the world and in shaping national narratives at the interface of arts and culture, and we can do that better by working closely with each other,” Moore said.

“We are excited to begin this significant partnership and look forward to presenting public programs and learning activities that support cultural resurgence, healing, sovereignty and transformation for the First People of Australia.”

AIATSIS has reached into its archives to screen rare footage of the removal of sacred Dendroglyphs (carved trees) from the Kalimangl Bora Ground in northern NSW to show at the Biennale of Sydney.

Facilitated by AIATSIS, Biennale has sought permission from the Gamilaraay/Kamilaroi community to exhibit the film. Brook Andrew and members of the Biennale team were invited by Kamilaroi Elder Roslyn McGregor to visit Collarenebri, NSW.

“The Aboriginal Studies curriculum has a component where students learn about the ethics and protocols of community consultation. What better way to learn about this process than to witness it in the students’ own community? Many of these students have connections to Collarenebri through kinship and our Gamilaraay nation,” McGregor said.

NIRIN is presented across Sydney from March 14 to June 8, 2020.

By Rachael Knowles