The Biennale of Sydney is a vibrant convergence of art and ideas. Across seven locations, the program showcases 96 artists from 50 countries. Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain First Nations Curatorial Fellow, artist Tony Albert hopes it also sparks conversation around the crucial and often overlooked role of Indigenous and queer communities in the visual arts.

“On top of these really big international works and events, there’s some locally grounded content that’s not really in the vernacular of who we are, or even our own history here,” Albert, the Biennale’s inaugural First Nations curatorial fellow with the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, tells Broadsheet.

The program also intersects with other Sydney cultural touchstones: this year, the Biennale has its first ever float at Sydney Mardi Gras. “Hopefully it’s something that continues into the future, given they’re so closely related in terms of their timing, and how important the queer community is within the visual art community,” Albert says.

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The float was conceived by the Yangamini collective and also pays homage to the late dancer and activist Malcolm Cole, who led the first Aboriginal float in the 1988 Mardi Gras Parade. Cole’s twin brother, Robert Cole, makes his first Mardi Gras appearance this year wearing a replica of the Captain Cook costume that his brother wore over three decades ago.

Connections with history such as this echo the Biennale’s title this year: ‘Ten Thousand Suns’. “My reading of ‘Ten Thousand Suns’ is that it’s looking at our own individual stories and, metaphorically, our attachment to what is our sun as our own individual,” Albert says. “But the notion [is] that we all live, work and exist under the one sun, so it’s looking at those connections we all hold to eachother, to listen and to learn .”

There’ll be over 50 events encompassing artist talks, Auslan-interpreted art tours, dance, theatre, workshops, film and music. Here are Albert’s five recommendations of must-see events if you want a taste of everything.

Spotlight Talk: Kaylene Whiskey

In Kaylene Whiskey’s vivid paintings, pop culture icons like Dolly Parton and Tina Turner are transported to the Australian desert, wearing their bedazzled outfits and surrounded by symbols of Anangu culture. Whiskey lives and works in the Indulkana Community of just under 300 people on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in north-west South Australia. In this artist talk, Whiskey will discuss her work Kaylene TV, a series of videos where her paintings become animated worlds.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to get a glimpse inside how regional and remote artists are working, thinking and bringing really incredible ideas to the forefront of global conversations ,” Albert says.

Family days

Curated by disability arts organisations and practitioners, the program’s three family days will be accessible for children of all abilities and will spotlight artists with disability. Activities include a chalk mural where kids and parents can collaborate with the artists, a workshop where families weave and knit beads and trinkets to help create a giant woven portal, and a soft sculptural picnic installation to encourage sensory play.

“It’s about family interaction and being present,” Albert says. “I think there is an idea to ‘don’t touch’ or ‘be quiet’ in a gallery space, but actually, it’s really changing to be informative, educative and representative of all. There’s something inside the Biennale that will resonate with any individual in a very enguaging way.”

Performance: Eric-Paul Riege

Eric-Paul Riege is a Native American Diné weaver and fibre artist working primarily in installation, woven sculpture and performance. Riege will perform a “weaving dance” around his fibre installations at Artspace. His work explores the intersection between cosmology and Diné spirituality.

“Eric’s work actually includes a performance by the artist. While some artists are actually in conversation with the public through their artwork there’s an opportunity to engage with artists through performance as well. This often offer cultural nuances which many audience members would have never seen before” says Albert.

Spotlight Talk: Dylan Mooney

In this spotlight talk, Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander artist Dylan Mooney presents his new mural of Malcolm Cole in his Captain Cook drag at Mardi Gras 1988. In his work, Mooney aims to create authentic representations of the queer Indigenous community. A separate panel on the same afternoon, Saturday 9 March will respond to Mooney’s mural; this conversation between Cole’s peers, family members and scholars will reflect on his legacy as a queer Aboriginal artist and activist.

Art After Dark

On Wednesday nights the Art After Dark program offers an eclectic mix of art and music from innovative creators who bend genre and form. Visitors can enter a ballot to land free tickets to the program, which features local musicians such as former Triple J Unearthed High nominee Lupa J and experimental art-pop performer Dyan Tai, as well as international acts including Brooklyn rapper Cakes Da Killa and Kenyan-born, Uganda-raised MC Yallah.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of the Biennale of Sydney. Tickets and program details are available online.