Asylum – Roger Ballen

Roger BallenRoger Ballen is what you’d call a “wound opener”. Working with black and white film, his photography sheds light on the darker side of the human self – a place that most of us would rather leave untouched.

In an Australian first, Roger Ballen brings his unique craft to Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art ahead of the release of his new book Asylum of the Birds, to be published in early 2014 by Thames & Hudson.

Roger Ballen was born in New York City in 1950, and has lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa for almost 30 years. During this period from 1982 to 2008 he produced many series of works, evolving from photo-journalism to a unique artistic vision. This exhibition tracks the development of his style which has made an important and influential contribution to the visual arts.

One of the last generation of black and white photographic artists, Ballen’s work has been shown in important institutions throughout the world and is represented in many museum collections such as Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England and Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

More than a photographer, Ballen’s work has developed from a photo-journalistic style into a combination of photography, theatrical performance, sculpture and a photographic drawing technique developed by Ballen himself.

MONA’s Library and Round House Galleries will house works from Ballen’s Asylum of the Birds and Apparitions photographic series. In a third space in the Round House, Ballen will create a site-specific environment similar to those found in the Asylum of the Birds series. He describes his work as fundamentally psychological and existential; making art is an exercise in defining himself. Here, the viewer is invited to partake in Roger Ballen’s world.

“It has been of my goals as an artist to show at MONA. The overall aesthetic of the Museum overlaps mine,” says Roger Ballen.

“I am thrilled that I will be able to show my latest series of photographs Asylum of the Birds and Apparitions in this space as well as create an installation mirroring the physical spaces that I have worked in.”

The Asylum series is major project evolving since 2008, inspired by a house that Ballen visited in Johannesburg; a space inhabited by not just humans, but wild birds, cats, rabbits, mice and other creatures. This menagerie is made more surreal by the strange drawings rendered on the walls. The world ‘asylum’ bears connotations of on the one hand internment; and on the other, shelter and security.

Previously Ballen was an observer in his images, but with the Asylum of the Birds series his unique and complex aesthetic matures. This is a unique space that you have never visited before; Ballen has never made an installation like this.

Asylum – Roger Ballen
Museum of Old and New Art, 655 Main Rd, Berriedale, (Hobart)
Exhibition: 7 December 2013 – 21 April 2014

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Banner, 2009, Roger Ballen, Archival pigment print – Image courtesy of the artist