Indigenous art and culture on show at 14th Istanbul Biennial

    04 September 2015

    Prominent Indigenous artists and culturally significant artworks will form part of the 14th Istanbul Biennial, which opens this Saturday.

    Australia Council Director Visual Arts Julie Lomax said this year’s Istanbul Biennial would have strong Indigenous representation from Australia at one of the most prestigious biennials on the visual arts calendar.

    Vernon Ah Kee and Djambawa Marawili have been commissioned by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to create new work for the 14th Istanbul Biennial, SALTWATER: Theory of Thought Forms

    In addition, important cultural works have travelled to Istanbul to provide context to the artistic vision for the biennial – the Maw and Dhangatji Mununggurr Maak Message Sticks (1935); Yirrkala Drawings (1947); the Yirrkala Bark Petitions and the Thumb Print petitions (1963), and the Saltwater Paintings (1998-2000). Both the artists and the works have been supported by the Australia Council to be included in the Biennial.

    Vernon Ah Kee is a well-respected artist both nationally and internationally, having represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale in the group exhibition Once Removed. 

    Djambawa Marawili won the Best Bark in the 1996 Telstra Art Award and his works are held in many public and private collections in Australia and overseas.

    Ms Lomax said the invitation from Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to exhibit at the Istanbul Biennial was testament to her interest and commitment to contemporary Australian visual artists, and a strong connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art, which began when she was the Artistic Director of the 16th Biennale of Sydney in 2008.

    “This continued when she was the Artistic Director of Documenta (13) in 2012 and she showcased Australian artists in her exhibition,” said Ms Lomax.

    “As the draftsperson of the 14th Istanbul Biennial, Ms Christov-Bakargiev visited Australia last year through the Australia Council’s International Visitors Program to give a series of talks at Australian visual arts institutions and research artists.  This resulted in Ms Christov-Bakargiev including Vernon Ah-Khee and Djambawa Marawilli in the Istanbul Biennial.

    “Ms Christov-Bakargiev has also invited Australian arts professionals Hetti Perkins, Franchesca Cubillo, Ian McLean, Adrian Parr, Will Stubbs, and Jane Bennett to contribute to a series of seminars during the Biennial.  The inclusion of these artists and artworks will further cement Australia and our Indigenous art as an important contributor to the international visual arts scene.”

    Australia Council Chief Executive Officer Tony Grybowski said the Australia Council was committed to investing in innovative new practice and supporting artists to showcase work internationally.

    “The Council has invested around $11 million a year in international arts activity since 2010-11 and in  2013-14 there were 647 grants given to support Australian artists internationally,” Mr Grybowski said.

    “In the March round of the Australia Council’s peer assessed grants program, $1.3 million was invested in artists and arts organisations that identified international activity as their main focus, including the artists taking part in the Istanbul Biennial.”

    Preserving, celebrating and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts is a strategic priority for the Australia Council. This initiative also delivers on the Council’s commitment to enable Australian artists to develop their practice and markets through international partnerships and an increased global profile. 

    Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, the 14th Istanbul Biennial will run from 5 September until 1 November.  It coincides with Australia in Turkey 2015, the Australian Government’s biggest cultural festival in Turkey.  The four month celebration of Australian culture will be staged predominantly in Istanbul and Ankara from September to December 2015.

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