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aabaakwad heads to the land down under

The AGO is heading to Sydney, Australia for an international gathering on Indigenous art.

Rebecca Belmore. Biinjiya'iing Onji (From Inside)

Rebecca Belmore. Biinjiya'iing Onji (From Inside), 2017. Hand-carved marble, 143 x 209 x 209 cm. National Gallery of Canada, purchased 2018. 48373. Photo by Scott Benesiinaabandan.

We’re crossing borders this March in a celebration of Indigenous art and dialogue. Featuring Indigenous guests from 13 countries and held in Sydney, Australia, aabaakwad 2020 NIRIN will take the AGO to the land down under. The four-day event runs March 14 – 17 and is co-presented by AGO, Biennale of Sydney and the Canada Council for the Arts.

aabaakwad first launched in 2018, focusing on in-depth conversations about the themes, materials and experiences found in contemporary Indigenous art. The schedule this year includes live performance art, artist Q&As and an evening of musical events.

With a growing global interest in Indigenous art and film, what’s important about this event is that it’s Indigenous-led, giving a platform for creators to speak directly to their audiences. “Part of my vision for aabaakwad was that conversations around Indigenous arts be Indigenous-led, creating greater moments for healing and transformation,” said founder Wanda Nanibush, an Anishinaabe curator of Indigenous art at the AGO. “I am excited to continue that practice in collaboration with the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.”

Did you know that the Biennale of Sydney is the third oldest biennial in the world? For almost half a century, the festival has showcased thousands of international contemporary artworks. This year, the title of the Biennale is NIRIN, which means “edge” in the language of the Wiradjuri people of western New South Wales, Australia.

“Essential to NIRIN is the challenging and transforming of many dominant narratives about Indigenous cultures and peoples, and about the arts that are produced by these communities, which are too often ignored or rendered invisible,” said Wiradjuri artist and scholar Brook Andrew, the artistic director of NIRIN.

NIRIN isn’t the only term borrowed to encourage mainstream usage. aabaakwad is an Anishinaabemowin word meaning “it clears after a storm.” It’s used in Indigenous-led conversations to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and what lies in the future after the storm of colonialism.

aabaakwad 2020 NIRIN takes place March 14 – 17 in Sydney, Australia.

Can’t make it to Australia? On your next visit to the AGO, spend some time viewing our collection of Indigenous art.

Admission to see the Indigenous collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under.

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