Waterways explored in Biennale of Sydney’s Indigenous-focused showcase
The connection to the land and cultural customs play an important role in this year’s Biennale of Sydney, an international festival of contemporary art.
Rīvus, the featured program in 2022, explores the use of waterways in traditional practices and belief systems with the inclusion of a number of works by First Nations artists.
Wirdjuri Hannah Donnelly is part of this year’s curatorium for the festival, acting as a producer of First Nations programming, information and cultural exchange.
Donnelly said the inclusion of Indigenous performers was at the forefront of the directors’ minds when arranging the program.
“It’s inseparable,” she said.
“These ideas about indigenous knowledge, ancestral technologies, access to ancestral waters and the history of water in this country.
“For an artist or a collective, it is still linked to this knowledge.
The directors took a proactive approach in involving Indigenous artists, allowing their works to influence the direction of the program rather than integrating them thematically at the end.
Yawuru artist Robert Andrew uses water as a tool of erosion in his contribution A Connective Reveal – Yinamirlgan Buru/water waking 2022.
He comments on the language of erosion, the water carrying away abstract words drawn from letters that have been lost over time.
“It’s a tool for colonization, for intervening and for layering a language onto a culture,” Andrew said.
“It’s happened with a lot of indigenous languages in Australia, you lose that connection.
“You lose a lot of culture and knowledge systems held in that language.”
Other artists have found inspiration in confronting the past traumas of their people, navigating negotiations with landowners and ranchers to visit ancestral waterways for their work.
“A lot of compositions come back in conflict,” Donnelly said.
“We know that rivers, streams, waterholes were sites of colonial violence and continue to be sites of restricted access for communities to their water.”
This is the 23rd edition of the Biennale of Sydney, the first having taken place in 1973.
This year’s Biennale showcases works by Indigenous Australian and international artists, allowing parallels to be drawn from similar traditions and experiences.
Vietnamese artist Aluaiy Kaumakan explores the displacement and estrangement of her people from cultural lands after a typhoon ravages her community.
Kumakan is the first Paiwan artist, the indigenous people of southern Taiwan, to participate in the event.
The biennial is open until June 13 in several sites and galleries in the city.