Galerie Nathalie Obadia is very pleased to present ngaay ngajuu dhugul birra (to see my skin broken), the fourth exhibition by Brook Andrew since the Australian Wiradjuri artist began his collaboration with the gallery in 2014.
Born in Sydney in 1970, Brook Andrew's matrilineal kinship is from the Wiradjuri Aboriginal nation of western New South Wales, Australia, and he conceptualises his practice through the Wiradjuri language. Brook Andrew is considered a major player in the contemporary art and museum scene, whose work has gained international amplitude over a nearly 30-year career. His practice questions the memory of colonialism and presents alternative histories. His artworks, museum interventions and curatorial projects challenge the limitations imposed by power structures, historical amnesia and stereotyping, to centre Indigenous perspectives. Drawing inspiration from vernacular objects and the archive, he collaborates internationally with artists, communities, and various private and public collections. From this powerful work, alternative approaches to understanding history emerge in order to «de- colonize» it.
As Brook Andrew has expressed: "The paintings and sculptures in this installation create a mise-en-scene of continuing culture and new imaginings, presenting the complicated and broken processes of accessing and piecing together our objects held in museums. This installation creates a safe space and exercise in healing and radical self- love in a ceremonial scene that is free from the mistreatment, misinterpretation and romanticism inflicted upon our cultures. The paintings are inspired by patterns from our marrara guulany (tree carvings/dendroglyphs) and along with the totems and entire mise-en-scene present the power of process, regeneration, and this complex journey. The sculpture garru (magpie) is based on my personal totem. You will notice it appears to be broken, like other sculptural and painted elements in the installation which are cut, collapsed, broken, or opened-up. The concept of broken skin refers to, Aboriginal 'skin connections' (kin and family), and the literal broken skin of bodies and of our objects in museums. My act of assembling for this new body work is about active healing and finding new ways of creating ceremony today. These totem figures are also inspired and linked to characters in the theatre script 'GABAN' (strange) which will be performed this September at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.
My installation challenges current methods of displaying Aboriginal cultural materials in museums which are presented out of context from a vast geographical range. These displays misrepresent the cultural and linguistic diversity with a deep lack of understanding of Aboriginal society and ongoing practices - museums often represent our cultures as broken and incomplete, as if we and our cultures are broken and have little contemporary importance."
ngaay ngajuu dhugul birra (to see my skin broken), is inspired and driven by the complexities of collisions between the lived experiences of Wiradjuri culture and Indigenous ways of knowing with the institutionalisation of the museum and public space. A mise-en-scene ceremonial space of totems, relics, mandalas in ceramic, wood, neon, stone and marble welcome us along with eight works on canvas from the Seeing Time series.
The works on canvas in the Seeing Time series evoke the question of time, its perception and its manipulation. With contemplative and reflexive vocations, the space of the painting opens for an experimentation, an inscription in this infinite measure. For Artforum (January 2022) Helen Hughes also observes that «this turn to abstraction may reflect the sense in which, in 2021 as opposed to earlier in the artist's career, all the world's museums now appear to be striving to decolonize, thereby allowing Andrew to zoom out and capture a bigger picture». The black and white Wiradjuri motif is directly inspired by the artist's Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) heritage; the abstract form speaks to the strength and continuity of this cultural practice that has permeated his work since the beginning.
The spatial and temporal disorientation of this entire scene is volatile, the supports of certain elements slip away to consider new juxtapositions and assemblies of deeply personal histories that Brook Andrew binds together.
Brook Andrew was Artistic Director of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in 2020 and participated in UN/LEARNING AUSTRALIA at the Seoul Museum of Art & Artspace in 2021-22. He is part of the curatorial team for On Caring, Repairing and Healing at Gropius Bau, Berlin, where he will also present works this September and is regularly featured in the prestigious The Power 100: the Most Influential People in the Artworld, by the British magazine Art Review.
Brook Andrew observes a patient work of research with communities and museums via meticulously research and collaborations, invitations and residencies in museums and universities, notably ethnological and anthropological (Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in 2016, Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève in 2017, Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington in 2017). Many of his works, installations and commemorations address the issue of museum holdings and restitution, and include archival material (books, postcards, objects) of which Brook Andrew has, over time, built up a very extensive collection.
Laureate of the Explora Foundation, which allows him to carry out a residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris, Brook Andrew has initiated local collaborations for this exhibition, notably in the ceramic studio with Émile Degorce Dumas and his assistants Clotilde Chirol Perrain and Ninon Enea, stone artist and sculptor Vincent Voillat, wood craft and carpenter Mark Jackson. Brook Andrew's collaborators in Australia include Cherie Schweitzer, Jessica Neath and Stewart Russel.