Artist and curator Brook Andrew (born 1970, lives and works in Melbourne) challenges the limitations imposed by hegemonic power structures to make space for Indigenous systems of being and of knowing. His research as well as artistic practice are informed by his Wiradjuri and Celtic ancestry, motivating him to develop kinship between non-Western and Western cultures that share an intersectional understanding of Indigeneity.
His work has often led him to intervene in museal displays and to reimagine the power of objects found in museum collections. In so doing, he uncovers links to colonialism, cultural expropriation, and violence while centering Indigenous practices as an anticolonial force able to fracture Western ideas such as progress and linearity as well as the art historical canon and the institutions that support it.
In Brook Andrew’s installation, eight works from the collection of MoCA Skopje are placed on a large-scale, strikingly patterned inflatable object and wall mural. The pattern is inspired by Wiradjuri practices of carving, including on living trees and in making shields. Akin to an optical illusion, the pattern is playful yet also points toward underlying truths, such as the many identity shifts undergone not only by the collection’s modernist works – Western and non-Western alike – but also by the city of Skopje itself. The works from the collection are carefully arranged on the mural, with Pablo Picasso’s at the very top. They are dated from 1963 to 1968, a period of both the devastating earthquake and the rebuilding process in Skopje. Together, they delineate a specific moment in time when these works were part of a very specific value system, one that particularly favored Western male artists – the same artists who often appropriated non-Western artworks and designs. This idea is also expressed in the title of the installation, mulunma wiling mangi gudhi. These Wiradjuri words translate to “inside the lip of a stolen song”, hinting at the thin line between appropriation and theft.
Brook Andrew’s work with inflatable structures utilizes the methods of enlargement to recontextualize history and make often overlooked topics appear larger-than-life. The installation spatially reconciles the many contradictory meanings of the loaded modernist discourse that informed the inception of the Solidarity Collection of MoCA Skopje. It celebrates spaces that allowed for such moments of solidarity to materialize while also clearly addressing their many problematic aspects and continuing repercussions.
Interview with Brook Andrew
1. What were your impressions of Skopje and the Solidarity Collection of MoCA Skopje? What did you find interesting about the collection?
Skopje is a place of contrast and beauty. From the visible effects of the earthquake to the call to prayer and hymns I experienced at the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Archdiocese of Ohrid, to the warmth of the people, to the striking design of MoCA, Skopje is inspiring. I really enjoyed walking around and exploring the diversity of cultures and languages. The museum’s collection is overwhelming in many ways – from the history of the collection to the way in which it has inspired presentations of it. It is important that the collection is presented and also on display to show the local cultural ways of doing things and communicating to a broader art and cultural audience, in both Skopje and around the world.
2. How do you relate the works you chose from the collection to your own practice?
The works are not so close to my own practice, though they are chosen as devices to express a timeline of hegemony and constructed worldviews on what, at the time, was popular art and movements and demonstrated a Euro-American art world that is predominantly male. I reflect on the generosity of artists, but also the reality of how this is performed today. It is important to note the struggle between the former Yugoslavian artists and the Euro-American artists, which I have highlighted in my work. The title of my work, mulunma wiling mangi gudhi (inside the lip of a stolen song), attempts to highlight these complex relationships. This title is in Wiradjuri, my mother’s Indigenous language from Wiradjuri country in Australia. My Indigenous heritage has always found commonalities, solidarities, and complex connections with places abroad.
3. What is your view on solidarity in the art world today? Do you think something similar to the MoCA Skopje donations can happen?
Solidarity is, for me, in many ways a fragmented and person-, community-, group-, or kinship-specific alliance. I do not think it is fixed – it shifts and changes, and if it is not malleable, it will break, and then things and people and solidarity all break down. This is why I highlight the complex situation of international artists donating important works but also being part of the problem of the art world. From an Indigenous perspective, we are still trying to insert our own values of solidarity, or at least share them in an international context. This project has been inspiring and required careful thought, as it walks many tightropes of solidarity.