Radiating creativity: explore the 24th Biennale of Sydney

The morning sun bathes the White Bay Power Station in warm light, softening all the rough metal edges and concrete surfaces of its industrial interior. In the entrance hall, a crowd has gathered. Despite its small size in the vastness of the multiple-story high building, the guests’ buzzing excitement for what’s coming seems to electrify every inch of the room. After a two-year wait, it is finally happening – the 24th Biennale of Sydney is opening its doors for an exclusive first look at the exhibitions.


Artistic directors Guerrero and Costinaș in the White Bay Power Station ©Daniel Boud


Powering creativity at the Biennale of Sydney

While the recently restored power station might be renowned for retaining railway equipment and old machinery, it will be holding much more precious objects for the next couple of weeks. Being one of the seven sites chosen for the event, both international and Australian artists will showcase their contemporary work here from 9 March to 10 June.


Badu Gili projections on Sydney Opera House ©Daniel Boud


Illumination of diversity and international art

“TEN THOUSAND SUNS” is the theme for the 50th anniversary of the Biennale in the Harbour City. Artistic directors Inti Guerrero and Cosmin Costinaș explain that, at its core, the motto explores the different perspectives on how the world is lit by the sun. Interpreted in many ways by 96 different artists, this may reflect in their work as a statement on the tens of thousands of languages spoken or portray the radiance of enjoyment as a form of escapism from tragedies. The locations presenting this diverse array of art are White Bay Power Station, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Artspace, Chau Chak Wing Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, UNSW Galleries and even Sydney Opera House. Here, the new six-minute projection Badu Gili (“water light” in the language of the Gadigal) by First Nations artist Nikau Hindin will be projected on the sails of the iconic landmark every night of the year.


Darrell Sibosado’s modern riji work ©Darrell Sibosado


From Aboriginal Innovations to Ancestral Echoes

Badu Gili might be the largest art installation created for the Biennale of Sydney, but only one of many breathtaking exhibits. With artists curated from 45 countries and territories, every single one of them manages to put their own little twist on this year’s theme. Darrell Sibosado for instance, a Bard man from Lombadina, combines traditional riji (pearl shell) designs with modern backlit illuminations of his carvings. Blending Aboriginal culture and technology in a contemporary context, his panoramic installation can be found in the Turbine Room of White Bay Power Station. Exhibited at Artspace, Adebunmi Gbadebo’s multimedia sculpture is another meaningful artwork rooted deeply within her own family’s history. Telling the unacknowledged story of True Blue Plantation, South Carolina, the American artist shaped vessels from the soil of the graveyard where her enslaved ancestors were buried. The amphorae are simplistic and plain, adorned only with Gbadebo’s relatives’ hair as well as grains of rice that represent the plantation’s main produce. Accentuated with moody sounds and placed on wooden steps resembling the graveyard’s architecture, the sculpture is both tragic and confronting and sheds light on a violent history that has almost been erased from the records.


Adebunmi Gbadebo and her work ©David Orrel


Enlightening events

But not only the physical art showcased in the exhibitions is looking to attract visitors. Countless shows, tours and workshops will be hosted by the Biennale of Sydney this year, starting with a mesmerising opening show at White Bay Power Station with performances by VV Pete, Half Queen and more. Other notable events include the Art After Hours series that allows visitors to explore all the galleries’ exhibitions by night, multiple thought-provoking talks featuring the Biennale’s artists and Kānawāpātahmōwin, a symposium presented by artists, activists and advocates for Indigenous culture.


Cosmin Costinas, Serwah Attafuah, William Yang, Kirtika Kain and-Inti Guerrero ©Joshua-Morris

As a long day comes to an end, the crowd scatters after concluding a tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, the final event of the day. One by one, they make their way home, processing all the impressions and experiences of the last couple of hours. They now have seen them all – the 24th Biennale of Sydney’s many exhibitions and art galleries. From detailed paintings to heartfelt performance art, from artistic portrayals of shocking circumstances previously unknown to satirical installations.

And even though people experience art differently, one thing is certain to everyone – this Biennale will shine as bright as ten thousand suns.

If you liked reading about this year’s Biennale of Sydney, check out this article about Enlighten, another famous Australian art festival in Canberra.


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