“Gaban is a Wiradjuri word that means ‘strange’. It is the name of my theatre script which imagines a pathway through the complex and traumatising effects of the museum. GABAN is a story of human characters personifying the artefacts or archives of the museum - also known as Powerful Objects. Making GABAN as a performance with a collective of amazing performers and creatives in Berlin became an exercise in healing and radical self-love. We freed ourselves from the mistreatment, misinterpretation and romanticism that is so often inflicted upon our cultures.”
– Brook Andrew, 2022
GABAN: House of Strange is a series of new portraits and scenes by Brook Andrew that recall his earlier work ‘Gun Metal Grey’ (2007) and the experimental mixed media process he developed in collaboration with Stewart Russell and Danica Miller. The images are derived from video stills and photographs the artist made with a group of performers in Berlin during an intense period of rehearsals for the new video work of post-traumatic theatre, GABAN. Flickering in and out of focus depending on the light source, the figures are elusive - their appearance broken by the folds and imperfections of the printing process which register like scars and ripples of electricity. There is a play of visibility, a conflict between what is seen and not seen, that speaks to the challenges of capturing these powerful characters and moments of intimacy, performance and the carnivalesque.
Shot in historically-loaded locations in Berlin including the Humboldt Forum and the Clärchens Ballhaus, the portraits represent characters from GABAN which was recently premiered at the Gropius Bau, Berlin, in a three-channel immersive video installation and series of live performances. GABAN was made in collaboration with an international collective of performers, videographers, dramaturg and video editor who share a commitment to a decolonial practice and to empowering the voices of LGBTQ+BIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, and Indigenous People of Colour): Paschal Daantos Berry, Gary Stewart, Mouna Assali, Cammack Lindsey, Layana Flachs, Cherie Schweitzer, Magnus Elias Rosengarten, Aaron Reeder, Budi Miller, Dena Abay, Kameron Locke, Savanna Morgan, Joni Barnard, Oumou Aidara, Astan Meyer, Mohamed Boujarra, Céline Rodrigues Monteiro, Jota Ramos, Black Pearl, Marque-Lin, Mmakgosi Kgabi, and Kevin Bonono.
The performers were invited to take on roles as cultural, historical and built objects in order to look back on the mess of colonialism, in particular the legacy of museum collections and the thousands of cultural objects which were removed, often under violent circumstances, from their homelands. Some of the characters are based on cultural objects Brook Andrew has met with in his research of ethnographic museum collections including Bundanha (Photo) who references the thousands of ethnographic photographs of Indigenous peoples still held in these collections and Guulany (Tree) who was inspired by a carved tree section on display in the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Believed to be from Wiradjuri or Gamilaroi Country in north western New South Wales, it is likely this carved tree section first travelled to Europe for the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris. In museums, these objects are cut off from their power caged in glass cabinets or hidden away in closed drawers. In GABAN they are imagined whole again and powerful, as ngawal murrungamirra (Powerful Objects).
Other characters from GABAN such as Ngayamaldhanny (Judge) and Yambuwan (Public) create a dialogue about the institutional power of the museum in tandem with Winha-nga-nha (Memory), a character who inspires revolt and reconnects with a time outside the museum. All the characters are protagonists of eventual change in the trajectory of current museums. The final scene in GABAN represented in the exhibition work ‘Procession’ is a repatriation ceremony led by the character Winha-nga-nha (Memory). This scene was made outside the Humboldt Forum, a new controversial museum in the centre of Berlin which houses a number of museums including the collections of the former Berlin Ethnography Museum with cultural materials from Africa, the Pacific and the Americas. The making of GABAN brought the current demands for repatriation and restitution literally to the doorstep of one of the largest museums in Europe.
In GABAN: House of Strange, the characters come together again in a new presentation of two dimensional mixed media works that is both theatrical and contemplative, to speak back to the catastrophe of the museum and colonialism and imagine new possibilities, identities and destinies.
All of the Aboriginal words in this text are from the Wiradjuri language, Brook Andrew’s matrilineal kinship group of Western New South Wales.