Tony Albert is one of Australia’s most prominent contemporary artists, known for his dark humour and using themes of “Aboriginalia” (Australiana objects depicting Aboriginal people). His work – though often humorous, like his 2020 reimagining of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball music video – powerfully rewrites historical mistruths and injustice.

If you haven’t visited one of Albert’s exhibitions, you’ve probably spotted his work in Sydney’s Hyde Park (where you can find his large-scale artworks such as Yininmadyemi Thou didst let fall, depicting four giant bullets and three bullet shells) or on the seats of Allianz Stadium, (where you’ll find a seating design called Two Worlds Colliding).

This year has already been a momentous one for Albert. He’s been appointed as the first ever First Nations Curatorial Fellow at the Biennale of Sydney, he’s exhibited his Ashtralia series at Photo 2024 in Melbourne, and he’s given a platform to unrepresented and underrepresented First Nations artists at his latest exhibition at Sullivan & Strumpf. And it’s only March.

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We sat down with Albert on our podcast Around Town this week to talk about the legacy of his new role, whether he still perceives his own work as optimistic and more.

On Wreck Me, His Reimagining of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball

I’d always had this idea, after seeing the iconic Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball film clip, of utilising that as a form – with very tongue-in-cheek undertones, or very dark humour – of actually knocking down these colonial statues of people who were perceived to be heroes or the white male hierarchy that exists within our colonial references. Being able to do that … in front of a green screen sitting on an exercise ball that I had strung to the ceiling, it was a lot of fun. Like my work, those political undertones are very important and meaningful, but became this catalyst for a much bigger idea that we launched on Youtube and was accessible for everyone and was fun. Little known to me, the day we released the video, the first international statue was pulled down by community. I had a lot of people calling me saying, “How did you do this so fast?” It’s just a symbiotic way in which communities respond to different things happening.

On becoming the Biennale of Sydney’s first First Nations Curatorial Fellow

For me, it was not just about being the inaugural curatorial fellow. It was laying the foundation for what I hope to be a continuing and ongoing successful relationship which supports artists to conceive of massive projects to be included in this international Biennale, such as the Biennale of Sydney, and what the after-effects of me being in that role can do. I say this not lightly, because I’ve seen opportunities like this come and go because they weren’t started right. My role is to start this right and know that at any point in the future, I can reinsert myself in as an advocate, as an ally, and sort things out if they need [it].

On his optimism

The undercurrent is always, for me, optimism in the face of adversity. That’s what brings us to the life we live. When you don’t have that there, it’s so easy to give in and we see it within our own people when that fire is put out and the detrimental effect it has on our health and who we are and how we live within a society. I place no judgement on anyone who feels that way because we probably should; we have a really horrible history here to deal with in this country. Having the opportunities I’ve had … I feel a real sense of importance that I am someone who is able to make change from the inside out.