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Nirin: 22nd Biennale of Sydney

As part of this year's First Nations-led program, you can tour the Parramatta Female Factory, ferry to a hip hop festival on Cockatoo Island or explore installations by over 100 artists spread across Sydney.
By Samantha Teague
March 13, 2020
By Samantha Teague
March 13, 2020

The centrepiece of the 2018 Biennale of Sydney was Ai Weiwei's 60-metre inflatable boat, a critique and exploration of the global refugee crisis. This year, when the Biennale returns to art galleries across Sydney, the lineup of 100-plus artists will be examining another poignant issue close to the heart of Australia: First Nations sovereignty and intergenerational trauma.

Running from Tuesday, June 16 until Sunday, September 6, the 2020 Biennale is entitled Nirin, which means 'edge' in the language of western NSW's Wiradjuri people. This year's theme is timely, for two reasons: the 2020 blockbuster falls on the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's voyage to Australia — and it will be helmed by a new First Nations artistic director, famed Sydney-born, Melbourne-based interdisciplinary artist Brook Andrew.

Andrew has selected an impressive lineup of artists and creatives — many of them First Nations — from around the world to exhibit at the Art Gallery of NSW, Woolloomooloo's Artspace, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Cockatoo Island and the MCA. The National Art School, which was originally part of the program, will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future, so the Biennale is currently looking to relocate its works to a new space. On the just-announced program, you'll find the Southern Hemisphere premiere of Arthur Jafa's Golden Lion-awarded work The White Album, Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens's immersive work symbolising the disproportionate number of incarcerated Indigenous Australian women and a large-scale political protest piece by Pitjantjatjara artist Kunmanara Mumu Mike Williams (who passed away last year).

Hannah Catherina Jones, 'Owed to Diaspora(s)' (2020), courtesy the artist. Photo by Zan Wimberley. Installation view.

Cockatoo Island will be home to a wide range of works, including Ghanaian-born artist Ibrahim Mahama's sprawling installation of coal sacks; Tony Albert's interactive greenhouse, where you'll be invited to write and plant messages; and Tlingit/Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin's excavation work that'll 'dig up' the land beneath the shadow of Hyde Park's Captain Cook statue. Elsewhere, Ahmed Umar's ceramic sarcophagus will be shown at the MCA; DJ Hannah Catherine Jones will perform an audiovisual work inspired by pop-culture, poetry and provocative imagery; Andrew Rewald's evolving community garden; and Leisa Reihana's multi-channel video installation and film will explore the history of Māori and South Pacific Islander peoples.

Running at a later date will be Nirin Wir: a program of free and ticketed events taking place all over the city, from the Blue Mountains to La Perouse. You can listen to in-depth conversations between First Nations artists and other artists at the multi-location Aabaakwadhead to Cockatoo Island for 4ESydney Hip Hop Festival, watch an all-Indigenous Australian cast discuss Australia's 60,000-year history and debate the question "To cook Cook or not?" at Sydney Town Hall and join a performative walking tour of Parramatta Female Factory Precinct or a guided bushwalk through Dharawal National Park with Aunty Deirde Martin. Favourite events such as the Bankstown Poetry Slam and Sunday family day will also return for the festival. Dates for Nirin Wir are yet to be announced, but we'll be sure to keep you posted.

Top images: Ibrahim Mahama, 'No Friend but the Mountains' (2012–20), Cockatoo Island, courtesy of the artist; Barbara McGrady, installation view, Campbelltown Arts Centre,c courtesy of the artist. Photos by Zan Wimberley.

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