In this major new exhibition marking the National Portrait Gallery’s third decade, 23 Australian artists and collectives have been invited to create new works that expand on and transcend conventional notions of portraiture.
Portrait23: Identity features new work from multi-award-winning contemporary Australian artists and collectives working across every state and territory.
Responding to the broad concept of identity, each artist has been invited to realise a new approach to portraiture across a range of mediums, not only painting, drawing and photography, but street art, suspended textiles, performance, ceramics, bronze, and soft sculpture.
Presented across four galleries, this free exhibition will include:
- A major new digital portrait by Angelica Mesiti that challenges portraiture as a vehicle of representation beyond physical likeness.
- A new portrait by celebrated Yankunytjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey depicting her hero Dolly Parton visiting her in Indulkana.
- Ten puppet sculptures made from plaster, wax and bronze by Sally Smart, presented as if in conversation with each other.
- Several new ceramic sculptures by Vipoo Srivalasa inspired by people’s drawings of themselves in outfits that represent their imagined costume for the happiest day of their life.
- Artists from the revered Arts Project Australia have worked with independent photographers to present Ways of Seeing: Portraits of an Artist – formal photographic portraits seen alongside their own works .
- New hand-drawn illustrations by Yuwi man Dylan Mooney that depict his arts community from Central/North Queensland.
- A large-scale soft sculpture by Tarryn Gill, a self-portrait by Nell that takes the form of a ‘Tree Woman-Woman Tree’, and a suspended photographic portrait silk sculpture by Atong Atem.
- Multi-disciplinary artist Deborah Kelly will facilitate public sewing circles that will update two portraits she made by the artist a decade ago.
- Two large-scale new works will be writ large on the Gallery’s exterior – a floating double-portrait by street artist Baby Guerrilla will adorn the NPG’s exterior ‘blade’ – the cantilevered architectural feature at the galleries entrance, and Alison Alder’s monumental screen-printed poster series Some Women you May Not Know will take over one side of the forecourt.
- And Kate Beynon’s Spirits Shapeshifting – a future-fantastic forest of supernatural characters, botanical dreamscapes and kaleidoscopic visions will light up the NPG exterior at night for Canberra’s Enlighten Festival. In addition, Kate has created an immersive, interactive ‘face-making’ space where visitors can make ancient futuristic hybrid figures using Beynon’s motifs of scales, eyes, hands, botanical elements and symbols.
Sandra Bruce, NPG Director of Collection and Exhibitions said Portrait23 was an opportunity for the National Portrait Gallery to broaden preconceived ideas about portraiture and representation. “Each of the artists selected is well-known and influential in their own right, but many would not consider themselves to be portraitists,” she said.
“The National Portrait Gallery is excited to work with them on this innovative, provocative exhibition, that moves beyond expected notions of what portraiture conventionally is. A portrait is generally understood to be a literal visual likeness of a person, perhaps going so far as to reference their interests and endeavours.”
With Portrait23, through directly engaging with some of Australia’s most exciting contemporary artists, we are bringing new, diverse concepts and perspectives around the genre, and its inherent universal theme of identity, to the table,” said Ms Bruce.
Portrait23: Identity will be accompanied by a publication featuring nine commissioned pieces of writing from leading Australian authors reflecting broadly, and personally, on the notion of identity, as well as a program of performances, lectures and events. Portrait23: Identity is a free exhibition and exclusive to Canberra.
Curator Penny Grist said Portrait23: Identity was an invitation for artists to stretch, push and break through the constraints of portraiture. “The exhibition has been defined by the artists actively asserting a multitude of experiences and perspectives that have the potential to expand and enrich our understanding of portraiture’s potential,” she said.
NPG First Nations Curator, Meriam woman Rebecca Ray said Portrait23: Identity opened the Gallery up to a new kind of dialogue. “While identity has always remained a core feature of portraiture, this exhibition reveals a shift in the genre towards honouring the power of storytelling,” she said.
“What we see are deeply personal evocations of themes that resonate collectively – cultural knowledge, the body, feminism, visibility and invisibility, activism, community, legacies of ongoing colonisation and journeys of migration,” said Ms Ray.
Writers who have contributed to the publication Portrait23: Identity, include Yassmin Abdel Magied, Maryam Azam, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Michelle Law, Hugh Mackay, Vivian Pham, Yves Rees, Madeleine Ryan, Nardi Simpson. The publication also includes conversations with the artists on their processes and practices.
National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes (Canberra)
Exhibition: 10 March – 18 June 2023
For more information, visit: www.portrait.gov.au for details.
Image: Vipoo Srivilasa, Four works from Happy Australian, 2022 © Vipoo Srivilasa – photo by Simon Strong