Art and activism at Sydney Biennale

Textile rubbing by QCA doctoral candidate Venessa Possum Starzynski

Queensland College of Art First Nations alumni have been selected to exhibit at the Sydney Biennale this month.

The Sydney Biennale is one of the world’s leading international contemporary art festivals. This year’s event, titled NIRIN, is led by First Nations artists and curators.

Doctoral candidate Venessa Possum Starzynski and alumni Tony Albert and Eric Bridgeman are among the leading Australian artists invited to show their work. All three artists are graduates of Griffith’s acclaimed Bachelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art.

‘An outstanding achievement’

QCA Director Professor Elisabeth Findlay

Queensland College of Art Director, Professor Elisabeth Findlay, said their selection for the Sydney Biennale was a major coup.

“To be selected for an event like the Sydney Biennale is an outstanding achievement, and is recognition of the unique artistic voices emerging from the Queensland College of Art,” she said.

“Contemporary Australian art by our Indigenous artists offers a window onto the distinct and challenging histories of Australia.

“As the country’s premier platform for contemporary art, the Sydney Biennale is a wonderful showcase for our alumni.”

A celebration of Aboriginal voices

Doctoral candidate Venessa Possum Starzynski

Proud Dharug-Dharawal artist Venessa Possum Starzynski will exhibit Ngurra Bayali (Country Speaks), a series of large-scale textile rubbings made on site at the former Blacktown Native Institution.

Image courtesy of Venessa Possum Starzynski

“The Biennale is on my country so it’s great to have a presence as a Dharug artist,” she said.

“This year is a real celebration of Aboriginal voices and I am working and exhibiting at the former Blacktown Native Institute, which is where the first stolen generations were taken back in the 1800s.”

Venessa is completing her Doctor of Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Art. She credits her studies in the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art program with allowing her to reconnect with her culture.

“CAIA allowed us to reconnect with our family history and origins, and I discovered so much,” she said.

“I followed my dream and relocated to Brisbane to do the degree – it is really one of a kind.

“When you enter CAIA, you enter a family – the lecturers and alumni are so inspiring and supportive.”

Healing power of art

Fellow CAIA alumnus Tony Albert is a major drawcard at this year’s Biennale. His installation Healing Land, Remembering Country will be housed in a sustainable greenhouse on Cockatoo Island.

Image courtesy of Tony Albert and Sullivan+Strumpf

“My hope is that this installation will become a powerful and poetic gesture of collective and active memorialisation,” he said.

“Visibility is the key to overturning and supporting. The outcome is not only the rejuvenation of land through planting, but the healing of land through historical truth.”

CAIA alumnus Tony Albert

Tony was born in Townsville to a Girramay/Kuku Yalanji father and a non-Indigenous mother. He said the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art program provided him with a foundation as an artist.

“I knew I wanted to study art, and to find a course that allowed me to major in contemporary Australian Indigenous art was amazing,” he says.

“No one in my family had gone to Uni before, but everyone at the QCA was so supportive and the course really provided the foundation of my entire art practice.”

The Sydney Biennale runs from 14 March – 8 June and will feature artwork across several sites, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Blacktown Native Institution and Cockatoo Island.