8 November, 2021 Michael McCallum

Family: Visions of a Shared Humanity Unmissable video works for unsettled times

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is pleased to present Family: Visions of a Shared Humanity, an important exhibition of unmissable video works for unsettled times, by some of today’s most internationally renowned artists.

Isaas Julien

Isaac Julien Western Union: small boats (The leopard) 2007 (video still) 16mm film transferred to digital video, colour, 5.1 surround sound Art Gallery of New South Wales, Lawrence Hinchliffe Bequest Fund 2018 © Isaac Julien Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Created in partnership with Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), USA, and guest curated by Franklin Sirmans, director of PAMM, Family presents an urgent and powerful exploration of the interconnectedness of global humanity at a moment of division, from Sirmans’ own African American perspective.
The free exhibition features nine works by leading American, British and Canadian artists, including John Akomfrah (Ghana/UK, 1957), Garrett Bradley (USA, 1986), Stan Douglas (Canada, 1960), Theaster Gates (USA, 1973), Arthur Jafa (USA, 1960), Kahlil Joseph (USA, 1981), Isaac Julien (UK, 1969), Steve McQueen (UK, 1969) and Carrie Mae Weems (USA, 1953). Together these pieces open a conversation by asking ‘how do we see each other?’
This moment, marked in the United States and beyond by a litany of recent killings of black people, has also seen courageous activism and coalition building through recognition of the intersectionality of race, gender and disadvantage.
Art Gallery of NSW director, Michael Brand said Family is the first collaboration between the Art Gallery and PAMM, and part of our goal to represent diverse, multicultural communities within a local and global context.
‘I want to thank my colleague Franklin Sirmans for working with us so creatively within the confines of various pandemic lockdowns. We are proud to partner with our colleagues at the Pérez Art Museum Miami to present this moving and timely exhibition after the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and explore this global moment of alertness to social and racial injustice,’ said Brand.
‘Family features nine extraordinary works that seek to create understanding through the power of art and open conversation about the deeper meaning of the term ‘family’, as it pertains to humanity.’
Garrett Bradley America 2019 (video still) multi-channel video installation; 35mm film transferred to HD video, black and white, 5.1 sound, fabric © Garrett Bradley Image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
Garrett Bradley America 2019 (video still) multi-channel video installation; 35mm film transferred to HD video, black and white, 5.1 sound, fabric © Garrett Bradley Image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery
Pérez Art Museum Miami director, Franklin Sirmans said: ‘This exhibition is both personal and institutional in nature. I was delighted to accept the invitation to curate it for Sydney and Australia in the hope that there is indeed a shared humanity, and that the space of the museum is the place to come together to explore that idea. I truly believe the artwork is the only thing that allows us to get to a sense of shared humanity; the mission critical of museums.’
Family features a range of works that explore history, including John Akomfrah’s large-scale video installation Tropikos 2016, a fictional narrative of the first British encounters with peoples of Africa in the 16th century; Garrett Bradley’s America 2019, which imagines black figures from the early decades of the 20th century whose lives have been lost to history by re-imagining missing scenes from silent-era films; Kahlil Joseph’s BLKNWS® 2018-ongoing, which combines current and historical footage about black culture to investigate the way in which black lives are perceived and represented in media and art; Isaac Julien’s Western Union: small boats (The leopard) 2007, which relates to the waves of migration that reshaped the globe in the first decades of the 21st century; and Steve McQueen’s End credits 2012–ongoing, which pays homage to the African American singer, actor, and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson (1898–1976).
Music is central to many of the works, such as Stan Douglas’ epic six-hour film Luanda-Kinshasa 2013, which depicts a fictitious band of professional musicians at the famed CBS 30th Street Studio in 1970s New York City, alluding to the emergence of a globally minded black consciousness and the unifying power of music. Theaster Gates explores his keen interest in Eastern Buddhism as well as his lifelong personal relationship with traditional gospel music in Breathing 2010, while Arthur Jafa’s celebrated video Love is the Message, the Message is Death 2016 features the soaring, gospel-inspired 2016 song ‘Ultralight Beam’ by Kanye West and captures the powerful emotions that underlie the African American experience, past and present. In Carrie Mae Weems’ work May Days Long Forgotten 2002, young African American girls dance around a maypole, subtly suggesting the struggle for social and economic justice while exalting youth, innocence, and renewal.
The exhibition is accompanied by a range of public programs with diverse creative practitioners that draw attention to local perspectives, including workshops, talks and music.
Visitors can reflect on the exhibition in The Family Lounge, where they can listen to a series of curated playlists by local musicians Amby Downs, BARKAA, Divide and Dissolve and Emily Wurramara. Responding to the current times, these artists invite conversation through their personal experiences, and position music in relation to the artworks in this exhibition. Also, in The Family Lounge, Aboriginal and Māori poet activist Latoya Rule presents a video reflection of their lived experience of black deaths in custody and their ongoing activism.
Early next year, 2 Sydney Stylists founders Niwa Mburuja and Wanyika Mshila in partnership with STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) and Story Factory, will facilitate discursive online and live programs that explore the themes of the exhibition.
Family: Visions of a Shared Humanity will be on display at the Art Gallery of NSW from 6 November 2021 until 13 February 2022. Exhibitions may be adjusted or cancelled subject to changes to public health advice and guidelines.
The health and safety of visitors is the top priority of the Art Gallery, which is closely following NSW Public Health Orders. Visitors are required to comply with Public Health Orders and are encouraged to plan their visit by reviewing the COVID-safe guidelines on our website.