Kamilaroi and Bigambul artist Archie Moore was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale over the weekend. He’s the first Australian artist to win the prize, which was awarded for his expansive hand-drawn chart, spanning 65,000 years of family history, called kith and kin.

The jury said Moore’s exhibition stood out for its “strong aesthetic, its lyricism and its invocation of a shared loss of an occluded past”.

Moore used white chalk on blackboard paint to draw names of people he’s related to, covering the four walls of the Australian Pavilion in Venice. He researched the names using ancestry.com and national and state archives. In the middle of the room is a sculpture of floating documents – mostly coronary reports of Aboriginal deaths in custody – above a pool of water.

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“It reflects the family tree, members of my family, as a way to show that the people mentioned in the coronary reports are not just statistics but humans and family,” says Moore in a video from Creative Australia.

He says the idea behind the family tree was to represent the 65,000 years of Aboriginal people living on the Australian continent. “As you look up onto the ceiling it’s as if you’re looking up to the night sky where my Kamilaroi people believe you go after death, so you’re looking towards the ancestors.”

In a statement, the jury said Moore’s kith and kin invites viewers to “grasp the inherent fragility of this mournful archive” and “with his inventory of thousands of names, Moore also offers a glimmer of the possibility of recovery”.

The artwork was curated by Ellie Buttrose, who said: “Archie Moore profoundly affects those who listen. kith and kin enfolds all of us into Archie’s family. To be kin is to carry responsibilities; duties for each other and all living things throughout time. This commendation is a celebration of Archie’s generosity – it is an honour to witness his art.”

kith and kin is showing at the Venice Biennale 2024 until November 24.

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