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2011.12_Brook Andrew, Paradise 2 (orange)

Brook Garru Andrew

Paradise 2 (Orange) 2011
rare postcards, sapele and neon
24.5 x 34 x 8 cm
Monash University Collection

With Paradise 2 (Orange), 2011, Wiradjuri and Celtic artist and researcher Brook Garru Andrew invites the viewer to contemplate how architecture, social relations and cultural memory might look if Indigenous lineages to Ancestors, beyond the pale of assumed heterosexuality and docility to colonisation, were recognised. Approaching this work demands reverence for the Ancestors imaged in the rare postcards assembled with African sapele timber and bright orange neon.

The destructive gaze that celebrates anthropometry, race hierarchy and capitalist exploit over forests can conjure loss and devastation. But this is not a defeatist trap. These feelings of defeat and linearity can be blended with impermanence and survivance, if Anishinaabe cultural theorist Gerald Vizenor’s conception of inventive Indigenous cultures—beyond the colonialist tropes of tragedy and erasure—is taken to heart.[1]

Often a non-specific mainstream Euro-American viewer is presumed to lack literacy, yearning and interest in learning the many Indigenous and racialised hxstories of visuality and knowledge that enable complex intersectional understanding of the Majority World. I wonder what it would take for us to know the hxstories of Indigenous-gendered Ancestors presently known only through storytelling strands and images in far-flung archive-holding places of Indigenous cultures. This Ancestor holds their gaze into the distance, looking away from the studio portrait foisted onto them, daring us to remember our ways from before Euro-American domination.

Would they regale younger queers with hxstories of sex in the forest with cousins, with neighbours from a far-off village who have come for ceremony and exchange? Would they lament the wailing pains that the churches inflict and the stomping and swaying necessary in the clubs to cope? Would relatives be upset that in these questions I reject the assumed heteronormativity of Ancestors, specters of fluid ways of being, knowing and relating that are thousands of years strong?

Sāmoan critic, curator and researcher Lana Lopesi takes this invitation to deeper engagement by the viewer further. Lopesi’s doctoral research is grounded in the Indigenous cosmopolitan imaginary in suʻifefiloi: the Sāmoan conceptual process of interweaving different media into a new whole, or of remixing multiple elements to contribute to collective consciousness.[2] What I love most about neon is its ability to conjure memories and future fantasies about sweaty shiny club nights, balmy open-air festivals, and science-fiction-based societies freed from cisheteropatriarchy and settler coloniality. Those special moments of shimmering bodies in renewed precolonial ceremonies and of scintillating waves where light refracts and reflects are where Indigenous knowledges are realised, as taught to me by Muruwari, Bundjalung and Kamilaroi artist, educator and researcher Brian Martin.

These scintillating waves and shimmering bodies reach in Andrew’s composition from the lāʻau, trees, to the suli, descendants, of those sacred beings which make up the forests that used to cover so much more of this shared Planet, and thanks to whom humans are able to breathe, to move, to sense, to love and to remember. In the array of colours—neon and otherwise—that our eyes take in, in the images that were never taken and those we have recovered from the racist lens, we can visualise and embody the spaces necessary for seismic shifts of ways of knowing, being and relating on this Planet.

Dr Léuli Eshrāghi (Sāmoan, Persian, Cantonese) is a visual artist, writer, curator and researcher who works between Australia and Canada. Ia/they intervene in display territories to centre Indigenous kin constellations, sensual and spoken languages, and ceremonial-political practices.

[1] See Gerald Vizenor (ed.), Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2008.

[2] Lana Lopesi is currently a PhD candidate at the AUT University Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau in the Vā Moana – Pacific Spaces Research Platform. Lopesi’s research is titled ‘Moana Cosmopolitan Imaginaries: Toward an Emerging Theory of Moana Art’.