Indigenous Artists Win Top Prizes at Venice Biennale

First Nations history and culture took center stage at the 60th Venice Biennale, with Indigenous artists from Australia and New Zealand (Aotearoa) receiving the Golden Lion award, the event’s top honor. Presenting on behalf of Australia, Kamilaroi and Bigambul artist Archie Moore secured the prize for Best National Participation for his pavilion exhibition tracing back his family history over tens of thousands of years. Representing New Zealand, the Mataaho Collective won the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition through its expansive and intricate woven installation work.

Moore’s presentation for the Australia pavilion, titled kith and kin (2024) and curated by Ellie Buttrose, uses the structure’s dark exterior as a springboard for the inside. On black walls, Moore spent months and used countless sticks of white chalk to write the identities of over 2,000 generations of his family lineage spanning 65,000 years in an enormous chart. Moore drew the contemporary generations at eye-level in a more recognizable family tree format, but the chart quickly starts to look like a brick wall or shingled roof as the boxes of names and identity markers are squashed against each other with each continuing level up to the ceiling.

At the center of the pavilion, Moore included redacted coroner’s reports of over 500 Indigenous Australian people who died in either police or prison custody since 1991.

The Mataaho Collective, made up of Māori artists Terri Te Tau, Bridget Reweti, Sarah Hudson, and Erena Arapere-Baker, earned the Golden Lion for their installation “Takapau” (2022), on view at the entrance of the Arsenale exhibition Foreigners Everywhere. It’s the first time a New Zealand artwork takes home the prize.

Drawing inspiration from whāriki takapau, intricately woven floormats with patterned designs, the group created the enormous “Takapau” from high-vis tie-down straps for trucks, snap buckles, and J-hooks and suspended it in mid-air along the ceiling of the exhibition venue. Bands of sunlight spill between the straps along the outer corners of the installation and sit on the walls of the gallery, achieving a floor-to-ceiling immersion into traditional Māori craftwork that responds to contemporary circumstances.

The runner-up for the best national participation award was Doruntina Kastrati, representing the Republic of Kosovo through The Echoing Silences of Metal and Skin (2024), a sculptural exhibition examining the workplace inequalities affecting women working in a Turkish Delight factory.

The Silver Lion award for Promising Young Talent went to British Nigerian filmmaker Karimah Ashadu, while Palestinian abstract artist Samia Halaby and La Chola Poblete, a transdisciplinary artist based in Argentina, received special mentions by the Biennale jury.

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