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1 June 2022 – Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia at the National Gallery Singapore

Forget the opened up travel lanes, Australia has come to Singapore!

Or well, at least the art of the First Peoples of Australia.

In its new show — Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia — the National Gallery Singapore has brought in the largest exhibition on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art to ever travel to Asia.

The exhibition gives viewers a good deal of food for thought about what it means to advocate for the cultural practices and identity of indigenous people.

It seems bizarre, almost macabre to celebrate the art of people who have been marginalised and attacked for years, but the exhibition is much more nuanced and sensitive than that. It asks so many questions one of which is this: is it possible to address these problems with wit and satire in order to spark critical conversations? Can art provoke, educate and lay bare the immense violence that has been done to these First Peoples? Short answer: yes, yes and yes.

The show opens with the work of Daniel Boyd- Treasure Island (2005). It represents the different Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander language groups. It makes reference to Australia’s colonial history as colonists once described the land as “terra nullis,” ignoring the existing diverse civilisation already in existence.


The works in the show by documentary photographer Ricky Maynard, present intimate and unusual portraits of marginalised communities.


Julie Dowling’s Self Portrait: in our Country – the artist presents her body as part of the landscape to underscore her deep and indivisible links to her ancestors.


The critical, biting, works in the show are placed alongside things like intricate ceremonial tools and masks, as well as traditional batiks. The contrast is sad and haunting and beautiful, all at the same time.


A ceremonial crocodile shark mask by artist Alick Tipoti


Tony Albert’s ASH on me is about “having a cigarette put out on you,” and is made of bric-a-brac featuring offensive caricatures of Aboriginal people.


This gory work by Yhonnie Scarce draws attention to the fact that Aboriginal people were subjected to medical, scientific and anthropological experiments. They were in fact, historically classified as “fauna” in government records and not seen as human.


Another great twist to this show is the connections it makes with Southeast Asia. Christopher Pease’s work is placed together with mooi indie paintings, showing how colonists presented idyllic images of colonised lands, conveniently leaving out images of the violent displacement of natives.


Lin Onus’ Dingoes (1989) – the artist here likens the strength, playfulness, adaptability and survival instinct of the dingoes to the determined strength of the Aboriginal people.


We particularly loved Richard Bell’s Embassy originally set up on the lawn of the Australian Parliament in 1972 and now reconstructed all over the world to reflect on the histories of oppression.

The show runs till 25 September. Find further details on the National Gallery Singapore’s website here.