These works, and more, are coming to Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, which reopens ahead of schedule on July 14 with a “satellite” offshoot from this year’s acclaimed, groundbreaking Sydney Biennale Nirin.
Jafa’s work inspired the plan, which has been pulled together with unprecedented speed, said ACCA artistic director Max Delany.
Delany went up to Sydney in March for the Biennale’s preview week, just before it was put on hiatus during the coronavirus shutdown.
“I saw (The White Album) at the Art Gallery of NSW, among the classical paintings,” Delany said. “People were audibly gasping. It’s an extraordinary film work.”
Brook Andrew, Nirin’s artistic director, agrees with a grin, “it’s pretty wild”.
When Delany called, Andrew said, he immediately suggested they go further than just lend ACCA that piece.
He’d considered doing Nirin satellite shows but abandoned the idea because the Biennale was such a “beast”, Andrew said.
“I saw this as an opportunity,” he said. “(The White Album) was very much about the American, USA perspective on Black Lives Matter; we’re in Australia and the context for us is very much about indigenous lives, trans lives, generally a paradigm shift on how we look at things.
“It was really important to look at the core of Nirin which was always about having a representation of people that are often not represented within the museum structure.”
So the pair pulled together a three-week exhibition of video works, a sculpture and an installation culled from the Biennale’s more than 700 artworks.
Andrew, a Wiradjuri man, curated Nirin (meaning “edge”) to highlight First Nations creative work from around Australia and the world – some by leading artists, some by people who had never even shown as an artist before. The Melbourne show will be called Nirin Naam (meaning “the land and waters of Melbourne”).
Andrew said the artworks were “tools to feel solidarity” with extraordinary movements sweeping the world right now.
“People can come in here, if they’re not quite sure what it is, to unpack what it is,” he said. “The Nirin Naarm work is not all hitting you over the head – there are some very gentle moments, some very joyful moments, beautiful images.”
It can be confusing, he said, “but what’s so interesting about this time is people are confused”.
“People need to be confused, they need to reset the agenda, make decisions for themselves… because the world is changing.”
Delany said Nirin had been timely, even prescient, in the way it reflected urgent current conversations.
Nirin Naarm, he said “is an opportunity to reach out, and reach together, to bring some of these extraordinary works to Melbourne audiences”.
“A major leitmotif of Nirin is the way cultural histories can be reconsidered and renewed. Certainties such as monument and memory become unstable – and new stories become available. Art allows people to come together to consider these questions.”
Just ask Meth Kelly who, in Warwick Thornton’s new video work, mutters over his backyard meth lab: “will we ever get back together and bake like a 4 and 20? Wanna get some, gotta get some.”
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.