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Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial, 2020, at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island.

The Best Public Art of 2020
Artsy Editorial, Brooke Andrew
Dec 2, 2020 4:58pm

Across the world, 2020 saw museums and galleries close their doors due to COVID-19, limiting access to art for months on end. Never before was the value and need for public art quite so evident.

To celebrate the resounding power and meaning of public art, the art-and-design fabrication company UAP has released its annual list of the year’s best public art. This year, the selected works were chosen by the esteemed international artists and curators Brook Andrew, Manal AlDowayan, Kendal Henry, and Raqs Media Collective, plus UAP’s principal and senior curator Natasha Smith and curator Ineke Dane.

Below, we share the 2020 list, with reflections from the nominators on what makes these works so impactful and inspiring. To learn more, you can tune into a webinar discussion of these public works led by Natasha Smith and Ineke Dane on Monday, December 7th, at 7 p.m. EST (Tuesday, December 8th, 10 a.m. AEST).

Nicholas Galanin, Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial
Sydney, Australia

Nicholas Galanin’s site-specific public artwork on Cockatoo Island, created for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, was a remarkable statement about Indigenous land and the myth of discovery. In Australia, at the beginning of the year, we were preparing to protest and challenge the official celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s journey to Australia and the Pacific. Nicholas is a Tlingit/Unangax artist who lives in Sitka, Alaska, and his people also share these histories with Cook, who traveled up into Anchorage, and renamed many of the Indigenous inlets, disregarding Indigenous knowledge and connections with the land. His gesture of a counter-monument was developed over nearly two years of visiting Sydney, getting a taste of the Australian colonial context and connecting with fellow Indigenous peoples from across Australia including 
Pedro Wonaeamirri
 in the Tiwi Islands. Galanin’s final design was to excavate the shadow of the giant Captain Cook statue that dominates Hyde Park in central Sydney. Standing on Aboriginal lands of the Gadigal, it is inscribed with the giant slogan ‘Discovered this territory’ and has been the site of many protests and counter-inscriptions and spray-painted ‘No pride in genocide.’
“On Cockatoo Island, the excavation work took on the look and feel of an archaeological digging site, an action to metaphorically remove or bury the monument. The work opened in early March, in the lead-up to the official Cook celebrations in Australia, and interestingly it also really resonated with the counter-monument actions, which followed with the Black Lives Matter/Indigenous Lives Matter movement across the globe and the tearing down of statues to empire makers and slave owners that clearly connected international colonial legacies.”

—Brook Andrew, artist, curator, scholar, and artistic director of NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, 2020

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