Archie Moore becomes second solo Aboriginal artist to represent Australia at Venice Biennale

Kamilaroi/Bigambul artist uses smell to evoke memory and explores racism and national identity through flags

The Kamilaroi and Bigambul artist Archie Moore is to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale next year, making him just the second solo First Nations artist to represent Australia at the world’s oldest international contemporary art event.

The 52-year-old, who is based in Redlands, Queensland, will represent the Australia pavilion in 2024, seven years after Tracey Moffatt did so in 2017.

On Wednesday Moore said: “The opportunity show my work to an international audience is a big honour and privilege.”

Neither Moore nor the Australia Council would reveal any details of the project, which is yet to be named, but the artist said his Biennale work would “be about something I feel strongly about”, including his family history and memories of where he grew up in south-east Queensland.

He said his family’s history was “something I’ve been avoiding” but that he was now “looking at the family tree, going back 60,000 years”.

Asked if he felt any pressure representing Australia, Moore said: “I won’t let you down.”

Moore’s previous works have spanned painting, sculpture and textiles, often wrestling with his memories, racism and Australia’s sense of national identity.

The artist has previously said “memory has been in all of my work somewhere”. Since 2010 he has created four versions of his childhood home in Tara: last year, he built it inside Victoria’s Gertrude Contemporary gallery, complete with the smell of Dettol – “It represents for me the fear my mother had of having her children ‘taken away’ – if we weren’t looked after, clean enough,” he said in an interview.

Dwelling by Archie Moore (2022)
Dwelling by Archie Moore (2022). Photograph: Christian Capurro

And in 2014 he worked with a master perfumer to create a series of “perfume portraits” that evoked moments from his childhood, including the smell of graphite pencils and paper at school, and the aroma of his aunties. In 2018 a career retrospective exhibited at the Griffith University Art Museum was installed as a series of recreated memories from Moore’s childhood in rural south-east Queensland.

Flags and language are common themes: his work United Neytions – 28 large flags featuring designs used by Aboriginal nations on their shields, bodies and in art – hangs permanently in Sydney airport’s international terminal, while his 2015 installation 14 Queensland Nations (Nations imagined by RH Mathews) saw him create flags for the Aboriginal nations mapped by Mathews, a 19th-century anthropologist.

United Neytions (2017), installed at Carriageworks
United Neytions (2017), installed at Carriageworks. Photograph: Sofia Freeman

His 2022 work Inert State involved 200 redacted coroner’s reports detailing the death of an Indigenous person in custody being scattered in a pool in Queensland Art Gallery, all dating since 2008, the year the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, issued the apology to the stolen generations.

For the 2013 National Artists’ Self-Portrait prize he submitted a taxidermied dog painted with boot polish, titled Black Dog. “Skin was an identifier of who I was and what status I held – not in the long-gone birthright of a traditional ‘skin name’, but from racist slurs that we’ve all heard at some time and continue to hear today,” Moore said at the time.

‘Artistically adroit and politically incisive’ … Moore and curator Ellie Buttrose.
‘Artistically adroit and politically incisive’ … Moore and curator Ellie Buttrose. Photograph: Anna Hay

Queensland Art Gallery’s curator of contemporary Australian art, Ellie Buttrose, will curate Moore’s work at the Biennale. She described Moore as “singular in his ability to engage audiences on an emotional level through memories and familial stories in artworks that stimulate discussion about how we bear the responsibility for social change”.

“Artistically adroit and politically incisive, Archie is uniquely placed to confront Australia’s past and assert Indigenous sovereignty on a worldwide scale,” she added.

Trevor Nickolls and Rover Thomas were the first Aboriginal artists to represent Australia in Venice, back in 1990, but did so in the same year; Judy Watson, Yvonne Koolmatrie and Emily Kngwarreye followed as a trio in 1997.

Moffatt became the first Aboriginal artist to represent the country as a solo artist in 2017. But in 2019, artist Richard Bell made a memorable appearance at the Biennale after he applied to be part of Australia’s official showing but was rejected; the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang man organised a sculptural replica of Australia’s pavilion to be driven around the canal city on a motorised barge, wrapped in chains.

The Australia pavilion will be on display from 20 April until 24 November 2024, marking the nation’s 25th year taking part in the Biennale.


Sian Cain and Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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