Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker

ACP Julie Rrap Speechless 2017Exploring views of our culture, our identity and our nationhood through works that surprise, challenge and enthuse audiences, the Monash Gallery of Art presents a large-scale exhibition of new works commissioned from 15 artists responding to Australian photographer Max Dupain’s iconic Sunbaker image.

Few images in the history of Australian photography have marked people’s consciousness as profoundly as the Sunbaker. And yet this photograph was never intended to occupy such a prominent place in Australian culture.

Revered Australian photographer Max Dupain (1911–1992) took the photograph of Sunbaker around 1937 while on holidays at Culburra Beach, NSW, where he camped regularly with friends. The already successful photographer had completed his apprenticeship with Cecil Bostock and opened his own studio, quickly establishing a reputation in Sydney photographic circles with his bold, innovative style.

A simple holiday snapshot, the Sunbaker depicts British builder and close friend Harold Salvage lying on the burning sand after a swim. A familiar scene in Australia, this ordinary subject matter is enhanced by its low-angle viewpoint, which abstracts the landscape and monumentalises the sculptural figure, creating an ideal canvas to spark imagination, admiration and identification.

“MGA is delighted to be hosting Under the sun and to be revisiting Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937) 80 years after its creation,” said MGA Curator Stella Loftus-Hills. “Dupain’s iconic photograph entered MGA’s collection in 1980 and this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for our audiences to view the work in the context of contemporary art and to reflect upon its relationship to current ideas around national identity.”

A travelling exhibition produced by the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP), Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker features the work of Peta Clancy, Christopher Day, Destiny Deacon, Michaela Gleave, Nasim Nasr, Sara Oscar, Julie Rrap, Khaled Sabsabi, Yhonnie Scarce, Christian Thompson, Angela Tiatia. Kawita Vatanajyankur, Daniel Von Sturmer, Justene Williams and William Yang.

Commissioned by ACP, the mix of artists reflects Australia’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature, enabling a creative and often very personal exploration of the question ‘is there something new under the sun?’ These artists contemplate, challenge and interpret the representation of Max Dupain’s photograph – which became an icon of a particular time and a particular vision of Australian culture – while offering unique perspectives on what it could possibly signify in our current society.

“Max Dupain’s Sunbaker remains an iconic representation of the Australian way of life and a milestone in the history of Australian photography,” said ACP Curator, Claire Monneraye. “In this exhibition, the 15 artists have interrogated the social and political implications embedded within this image but also challenged the status of this photograph in our visual culture. Pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium, their works expose the aesthetical complexities at play in discussions around collective identity.”

“Examining the legacy of the past and questioning the relevance that this image might retain in the future, the exhibition draws on a range of diverse practitioners and creative forms to consider questions of representation and cultural pluralism while also reflecting on the depiction of the idealised body, discussing gender issues, cultural and political ideas relating to immigration and colonisation, and our relationship with the land.”

Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker
Monash Gallery of Art, 860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Exhibition: 6 May – 6 August 2017
Free admission

For more information, visit: www.mga.org.au for details.

Image: Julie Rrap, Speechless, 2017. Bronze and steel. Courtesy the artist, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and ArcOne Gallery, Melbourne – photo by Michael Waite