‘I want to put people in my shoes’: Australia names Venice Biennale choice

Archie Moore will bring the pain of his Indigenous family history to the international stage next year when he represents Australia at the world’s oldest art show.

The Kamilaroi/Bigambul artist from Queensland will be only the second solo Indigenous artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. Photographer Tracey Moffatt was the first in 2017.

Curator Ellie Buttrose and artist Archie Moore who has been selected as Australia’s entry to the Venice Biennale.Credit:Janie Barrett

“I won’t let you down,” Moore said after being announced as its commissioned artist by the Australia Council for the Arts.

While specifics of Moore’s visual art project is under tight wraps and won’t be unveiled until after this year’s referendum on the Voice, identity, kinship and sovereignty has been an established theme of his 25-year-long practice.

Panel discussions about the lived experience of Aboriginal people, dispossession and the broader need for justice are expected to feature as part of Moore’s artistic presentation next year marking the Australia Council’s 50 years of dedicated investment at Venice.

Ellie Buttrose, a critic and curator with the Queensland Art Gallery, said the artist’s work was never about giving moral lectures. Moore was renowned for his generosity in baring his self and own family history to illuminate greater truths, Buttrose said.

Moore’s A Home Away From Home (Bennelong/Vera’s Hut 2016) as part of the 20th Biennale of Sydney at the Botanic Gardens.Credit:Wendell Teodoro

Moore replicated Bennelong’s one door, one window hut in the Royal Botanic Gardens for the Biennale of Sydney in 2016. For the 2021 Sydney Festival he updated a sprawling chalkboard diagram of his family tree that shows potential Aboriginal ancestral lineage dating back 32,000 years.

His great-great-grandmother had been dubbed by pastoralists Queen Susan of Welltown Station west of Goondiwindi, and presented with a breastplate to signify her importance as an interlocutor between British and local clans.

The artist’s grandparents were pursued by the Queensland Protector of Aboriginals and police across interstate borders “back and forth from town to town”. “They weren’t allowed to associate with other Aboriginal people and they had to seek permission from the protector of Aboriginal peoples to marry in the documents I’ve found,” Moore said.

Moore’s practice references his childhood memories of place “which wasn’t very a great experience”.

Moore’s United NeytionsCredit:Sofia Freeman/The Commercial Gallery

“What I remember, what I don’t remember, what I’ve been told has happened to me, maybe false memories, they’re all a part of my exhibitions.” He added: “I want to put people into my shoes, to experience things I’ve experienced.”

Corrugated iron is a favoured material and medium and his grandparents lived in such a hut with a dirt floor.

“It’s a material a lot of Aboriginal people used for their homes and it’s a discarded material a lot of times, too, at a certain point in time,” Moore said. “It’s also an extracted material from the ground with connotations of mining and mining impacts on Aboriginal people as well.”

As he spends the next 18 months making his installation, Moore hopes international audiences will gain a deeper understanding of lived Aboriginal experience and its culture from his work.

“I’m not sure what people in Europe know about Aboriginal people or Aboriginal art so much other than the desert paintings or something like that,” he said. “To show something that’s more contemporary visual art style, something they might not expect to know from Aboriginal art and just to share my own experiences and truth-telling about how I navigate this place called Australia.”

Moore follows in the footsteps of predecessor Melbourne artist Marco Fusinato whose experimental noise project featured a durational solo performance every day of the biennale. Fusinato’s show Desastres saw a record attendance of 393,416 visitors over an extended period of 200 days.

Moore’s exhibition/installation will open in the Australian Pavilion on April 20 and run through until November 24, 2024.

For the first time Australian Council selected the winning entry – based on industry advice – from a strong shortlist of artistic teams including Tony Albert, Liz Nowell and Hetti Perkins; Brook Andrew, Atong Atem, Lucienne Rickard, Justin Shoulder, Latai Taumoepeau and Rebecca Coates; Khaled Sabsabi and Michael Dagostino; and Yasmin Smith and Kathryn Weir.

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