Tensio (Kalar Midday series), 2004
number 3 from an edition of 10
Stills Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney
Another example of this work is illustrated in:
M Delany, 'Brook Andrew Eye to Eye', Monash University Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 24-25
‘I wanted to create something which didn't wear me out, and that was purely beauty, black beauty. To make a statement about aesthetics and photography, and originality in regards to looking at Australian animals and Aboriginal bodies as alive, seductive and divine. The politics is still there in all that blackness.’ (Brook Andrew, 2004)
Andrew uses an immaculately directed light source to reveal the mirrored image of a taxidermied currawong looking at a coiled snake. Like a contemporary translation of a creation story, the light falling on the scene is a metaphor for vision itself – a mythic ‘first sight’. The image takes museum objects and stories from the mythological Aboriginal world and destabilises our perceptions of them.
Andrew’s Kalar Midday (Land of Three Rivers) series was inspired by his mother’s Wiradjuri country, which spreads west from the Blue Mountains out across the plains crossed by the Macquarie, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers.
As his starting point for the series that was two years in the making, Andrew wanted to create his own, beautiful images of Aboriginal subjects. He wanted to ‘push the sadness back into the black scape of it all.’ In these luscious dark Ilfachromes it is often said that he created a new black, referred to as a space of dreams.
Kalar Midday is an important series for Andrew due to the technical and intellectual depth of the images and the way they broke new ground in articulating stories of suffering whilst honouring the gravity of difficult human experiences.
Image courtesy of Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne and the artist
A Wiradjuri and Ngunnawal man from his mother’s side, Brook Andrew’s practice is grounded in meticulous historical research with works that confront the narratives of colonial history and memorialise the lives and stories that have been erased by historical amnesia. Andrew’s practice resembles a historian, trawling through archival documents to glean new insights into Australia’s history divorced from what he calls the “Colonial Gaze”. His prolific oeuvre includes photography, collage, sculpture and large-scale installations, informed to a large extent by his Australian Aboriginal heritage, culture and language.
Overtly political, Andrew’s art disrupts conventional art practice by incorporating as many different media, disciplines and cross-sections of society as possible. He has a particular interest in ethnographic photography, finding historical images of Indigenous peoples from Australia and abroad and repurposing them, not unlike Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits. He makes frequent use of historical images – both ethnographic and art historical – overlaying them with collaged text to pass comment on colonial history and the Western art canon.
Andrew has a compelling vision for each of his exhibition spaces. Incorporating installation pieces along with neon light displays and sculptures, his work and the walls of his exhibitions have included striking black and white linear patterns based off dendroglyphs (or tree carvings) of the Wiradjuri nation. The diversity in medium and form is a manifestation of his vision of the world as a collection of ‘others’, of disparate voices that all deserve to be heard on their own terms.
Brook Andrew has exhibited for over two decades in Australia and overseas. In 2017, the National Gallery of Victoria staged The Right to Offend is Sacred, a survey show or, as he called it, a “museum intervention”. (Judith Ryan with Brook Andrew, Brook Andrew: The Right to Offend is Sacred, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, p. 2.) The same year, Andrew received a prestigious Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., United States. In 2020, Andrew was Artistic Director of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.