Thu, 16 May 2024 - 09:20


I rise to join the Minister for the Arts in expressing congratulations to the recipients of Golden Lion awards at the Venice Biennale this year, and I express those congratulations on behalf of the coalition. Congratulations to: Peter Weir, who received a lifetime achievement award and is one of Australia's best-known names globally in screen, with a career which has lasted for many decades and had many milestones, as the minister outlined in his remarks; Back to Back Theatre, based in Geelong, who have built a remarkable track record of creativity and performance featuring artists with a disability; and of course Archie Moore, a Gamilaraay/Bigambul man, who has won the Golden Lion for his kith and kin exhibition.

It's important to speak for a moment about the fact that, while this is a very singular individual achievement for Archie Moore as an artist, it is also, in a very real sense, an achievement for Australia because it occurred in the Australian pavilion. There is a process through which Creative Australia selects the artist who will take the role that Archie Moore had in this Biennale of having responsibility, essentially, for producing the work that will feature in the Biennale, and he of course worked with curator Ellie Buttrose. But I want to acknowledge all at Creative Australia who were involved in this work. So often the work of arts bureaucrats isn't properly acknowledged and our focus is on the creatives, but the reality is that none of this could have been possible without the arts bureaucracy and both government officials and, as the minister rightly acknowledged, philanthropic supporters, all of whom do their work so that an artist of extraordinary talent can have his moment to shine—and what a moment it has been.

It's been a significant moment first of all because what we have in the modern nation of Australia, which builds on a foundation of 65,000 years of culture, is a superpower, certainly as it applies in the world of arts and culture. Indigenous art, in many ways, is Australia's superpower. There is enormous global interest in the phenomenal talent of Indigenous artists, and it is no surprise that, when you think about it for even a moment, people who have been on this land for 65,000 years have a particular way of seeing and capturing the beauty of this continent. It's a beauty that all Australians share a fierce pride in but a beauty which is seen and portrayed in a particularly distinctive and insightful way by Indigenous artists. I think that superpower that Indigenous art represents is one theme in the importance of the success of the kith and kin exhibition and the recognition it's rightly received in winning a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale.

Perhaps it's worth quoting what the jury had to say in reaching their decision:

In this quiet, impactful pavilion, Archie Moore worked for months to hand-draw in chalk a monumental First Nation family tree. Thus 65,000 years of history (both recorded and lost) are inscribed on the dark walls and ceiling, inviting viewers to fill in the blanks and grasp the inherent fragility of this mournful archive. The official documents drawn up by the State float in a moat of water. The result of Moore's intensive research, these documents reflect the high rates of incarceration of First Nations people.

Therefore, the second reason that this is a very significant award is that it reminds us of the power of contemporary art—art of all kinds, but certainly contemporary art—to make powerful, impactful statements and to provoke the viewer to think about his or her own reaction to the work and what it makes them think about. I think the final reason why this is such an important award and such an important work is embodied in the very name of the work, kith and kin, and some very thoughtful observations that Archie Moore himself has made about why he chose that title, noting that the old English definition of 'kith' dates back to the 1300s and has a range of meanings, including 'countryman' and 'native land'. As Archie Moore says:

… I was also interested in the Old English meaning of the words as it feels more like a First Nations understanding of attachment to place, people and time.

In other words, this is a work which, on the one hand, focuses on the undoubted damaging consequences of the arrival of Europeans on this continent for many Indigenous Australians, and the interaction between the state and Indigenous people, but also, on the other hand, speaks to the human connections embodied in Archie Moore's own family tree. As well as having Kamilaroi and Bigambul heritage, he also has English and Scottish heritage. That's a story that is so typical of so many Australians today. So this is a work that highlights, on the one hand, tension, harm and negativity but also, on the other hand, shared humanity—the things that unite us as well as the things that have caused pain.

Congratulations, Archie Moore, on a very impressive work, a distinctively Australian work and a work in which we can all take pride.