Last weekend, the statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park was spray painted by Black Lives Matter protesters, as part of a broader pushback against monuments to colonial figures.

Artist Nicholas Galanin has gone further, imagining a world where such statues are already long buried and forgotten, in an artwork for this year’s Biennale of Sydney.

Galanin’s installation Shadow on the land, an excavation and bush burial (2020) is on display on Cockatoo Island from now through to September 6.

It consists of a hole dug in the soil, in the shape of the shadow cast by the Captain Cook monument. You can take a look at the artwork below, as seen from the air:

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A lot of people have been talking about this work lately… Nicholas Galanin’s (@nicholasgalanin) work at Cockatoo Island for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. ‘Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial’ is an excavation on Cockatoo Island of the shadow cast by the Captain Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park. Imagine a future where the statues of veneration that mark our public landscape today have long been forgotten, buried beneath the earth. In this speculative archaeological-style dig, Nicholas Galanin ‘uncovers’ or ‘excavates’ the shadow cast by the Captain Cook statue. The work rests between a possible past or future burial, a presence through absence of an object that today very much still functions as a celebration of colonial heroics. Inverting the gaze of archaeology, which has often framed Indigenous cultures as belonging to the past, this work imagines a possible future where the memories of settler colonialism have become distant and buried. In evoking the temporality of the earth, this work also puts into perspective the young though devastating history of British invasion and settlement and imagines a possible Indigenous future where the land begins to heal colonial wounds while still remembering. Watch our interview with Nicholas via the link in our bio. ➡️ • Image: Nicholas Galanin, ‘Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial’, 2020. Installation view for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), Cockatoo Island. Commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with assistance from the United States Government. Courtesy the artist. #NIRIN2020 #NIRIN #BiennaleOfSydney #CockatooIsland @cockatooisland

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The Alaskan-born artist wrote in a statement about the work:

“By creating a hole large enough to bury the statue, the work’s excavation (along with its title) suggests the burial of the Cook monument itself, along with the burial of destructive governance and treatment of Indigenous land, Indigenous people and Indigenous knowledge.”

The Biennale of Sydney said of the work:

“Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial is an excavation on Cockatoo Island of the shadow cast by the Captain Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park. Imagine a future where the statues of veneration that mark our public landscape today have long been forgotten, buried beneath the earth. In this speculative archaeological-style dig, Nicholas Galanin ‘uncovers’ or ‘excavates’ the shadow cast by the Captain Cook statue.”

“The work rests between a possible past or future burial, a presence through absence of an object that today very much still functions as a celebration of colonial heroics. Inverting the gaze of archaeology, which has often framed Indigenous cultures as belonging to the past, this work imagines a possible future where the memories of settler colonialism have become distant and buried. In evoking the temporality of the earth, this work also puts into perspective the young though devastating history of British invasion and settlement and imagines a possible Indigenous future where the land begins to heal colonial wounds while still remembering.”

The 22nd Biennale of Sydney, titled NIRIN, is open to the public now, with extended dates between June and September 2020. All exhibition venues are following NSW Government Guidelines based on expert public health advice on COVID-19.

You can find out more information here, including advice on how to plan  your visit.

Image: Jessica Maurer / Biennale of Sydney