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Brook Andrew’s Biennale Work Brings out Cultures of Indigenous People

In Kochi
January 11, 2019

History, identity and race dominate Brook Andrew’s work at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, as the Australian artist tastefully employs archival etchings and photographs to link the colonial histories of his country with India.

Sydney-born Andrew’s ‘The Space Between’ questions the dominant narratives associated with colonialism and modernist histories. The site-specific installation at TKM Warehouse in Mattancherry comprises two artworks: ‘Seeing I-IV’ (inflatable sculptures) and ‘Inconsequential I-VI’ (screen-printed textile).

“The installation connects the colonial experience and migration in occurrence since British imperialism in India and Australia,” says the 48-year-old who seeks to establish affinities between colonised, indigenous identities in Kerala and his country.

The work, ‘Seeing I-IV’, with texts like ‘I SEE YOU’ in English, Malayalam and Wiradjuri, features giant inflatable orbs that are decorated with patterns drawn from traditional shields and trees of his Wiradjuri ancestors of central New South Wales province. They symbolise the life of lands prior to colonial constructions, and “how amnesia, often forced, weighs heavily on contemporary history, especially when unaddressed”. They also reflect the actions of seeing each other’s cultural roots and historical legacies and links between India and Australia.

Through his installation, Andrews seeks to immerse the viewer in an augmented physical experience. The work comprises six largescale screen printed images inspired by colonial photography and architecture, and four large juxtaposing inflatable sculptures. “Collectively, these elements act as a reminder that we are not alone in the complexity of entwined history and the weight of memory,” notes Andrew, who is also the artistic director of Biennale of Sydney, 2020.

‘Inconsequential I-VI’ represents archival etchings and photographs from personal and museum archives that further link the two countries. It symbolises the life of lands prior and post colonial constructions.

Andrew, born to indigenous Wiradjuri and European parents, always looked for information on his maternal family’s aboriginal history. His works predominantly focus on highlighting marginalised histories by rearranging institutional collections to create alternative stages for objects thereby allowing for fresh interpretations. The artist draws inspiration from vernacular objects and the archive travels internationally to work with communities and various private and public museum collections to question linear forms of dominant histories.

As for his practice of art, Andrew stresses the vitality of archives. “They are important to me personally. I grew up not knowing a lot about my mother’s family,” he adds. “I knew where we are from, our place, but I am referring to the immense documentation of us as a people: our ancestors and other Aboriginal Australians.”

Artist Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation that is organising the 108-day festival that is on till March 29, notes that Andrew’s style of work challenges stereotypical ideas of a people’s past. “He tries to uncover neglected and often conflicted histories, and encourages his audience to consider alternative interpretations,” notes Bose. “Links between Australia and India are not always apparent, yet we share complex legacies around architecture and anthropology. Today, connections between the two countries are strong, more so through tourism, education, religion and food.”