Written by Anna Beketov
One of art’s greatest powers is its ability to open windows into lives far removed from our own. It can give insights into exotic worlds with unfamiliar notions and ideological structures and yet convey a reassuring sense of unity with humankind. The new exhibition at Tate Liverpool, part of the anniversary biennale, provides such a window, in this case into the lives of less-exhibited contemporary indigenous artists of Australia and Canada.
While there are stipulations about the grouping together of artists from different settler societies, based purely on cultural, and not geographical background, the exhibition offers an insightful overview of the brilliance of these non-western canonical artists.
An overarching theme of the biennial is the relationship between Liverpool’s own history, and colonial past, and a consciousness of the surrounding world. It loosely addresses the migrant crisis, and through the diversity of the artists exhibited, makes known its support for a globalised world.
The first two installations in the exhibition utilise traditional methods of production but modern materials. The striking work of Brian Jungen directly addresses colonialism with grand headdresses of the type seen in movies about the ‘wild west’ that on closer inspection, reveal ‘feathers’ created from torn segments of Nike trainers. It’s a clear demonstration of the effects of global consumerism on native communities.
Kevin Beasley’s adjacent collection of sculptures uses repurposed NATO-issued gas masks and megaphones placed within an abundance of feathers, beads, wires and fabric, to create haunting abstract masks that bear just enough resemblance to the human form to give them an uncanny aura.
The macabre feeling is not lessened in the following room, which houses the work of Duane Linklater. Animal pelts are carefully draped from clothes rails to resemble living creatures. The invisible presence of the artist, who is of indigenous Canadian ancestry, transforms our vision of simple hanging furs into animals whose magical spirit remains intact, thus conforming to spiritual beliefs from the artist’s community. On one rail, two foxes appear to touch faces, intimacy enhanced by the title ‘Kiss’. Another hangs next to a bag labelled ‘Wild fur/ Handle with care’, a nod to the idea that the soul of the animal survives. The works highlight the different takes on the politics of the hunting trade, the necessity of killing animals for survival in certain cultures, and how these beliefs diminish other concerns.
Dale Harding’s on-site wall mural similarly uses techniques traditionally used by his antecedents, in this case the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples of Central Queensland, Australia. Stories about Liverpool, of industry and colonization, are realised in a vibrant UK-produced ultramarine pigment.
Drawings by another artist, Annie Pootoogook, are perhaps the most poignant given her mysterious and premature death in 2016. Her works at first appear vibrant and playful, in their colourful cartoon-like depictions of every-day Inuit life in her community of Kinngait, but on closer inspection we are faced with the tragic struggles that she experienced, from lack of resources, to domestic abuse and alcoholism. Nevertheless while the drawings do have some melancholic undertones, there is also humour and light.
www.biennial.com – until 28th October 2018