The Benalla art gallery has opened the Atong Atem’s banksiethe first of two exhibitions that will be presented in Benalla as part of the national photography festival PICTURES 2022.
It will be on display until June 26.
banksie explores the lesser-known history of Australia’s early African settlers, considering migrant stories from a non-colonial perspective.
The works highlight the experience of African men and women who arrived on the First Fleet in 1788 – a colonial story that began long before Ms Atem’s own family arrived from South Sudan in 1997.
The presentation of banksie at Benalla Art Gallery includes an in-gallery exhibition of still photographic images as well as outdoor nighttime screenings of the video work.
The photographic series and video, accompanied by a striking score by Melbourne composer Jerry Agbinya, work together to reveal layers of history otherwise obscured on a cinematic scale.
The work was first conceived in 2019, when Ms. Atem was asked to exhibit a series of portraits for PICTURES 2021 at the Melbourne Immigration Museum, which was once the city’s Customs House.
Ms. Atem described the experience.
“(It) struck me as really interesting that depending on what time I was in that space … I may or may not have been allowed to enter it,” Ms Atem said.
The film alternates between natural landscapes and colonial architecture to trace the long history of African migration to Australia.
Benalla Art Gallery Director Eric Nash said it was a privilege to host the exhibition.
“Atong is technically and conceptually an incredible artist, as evidenced by the fact that she was recently announced as the first winner of the La Prairie Art Award,” Mr. Nash said.
“We are grateful to Atong, MARS Gallery and PICTURES 2022 for their support for the presentation of the exhibition.
“I have no doubt that the exhibition will appeal to many and will also generate greater awareness and discussion of Australia’s migration history and policies.”
PICTURES 2022 artistic director Elias Redstone said Ms Atem was one of Australia’s most exciting entertainers.
“(His) work will resonate with many,” Mr. Redstone said.
“Alongside his exhibition at the Benalla Art Gallery, we are delighted to publish his first photo book, Surahand metropolitan visitors will see his work installed outside the Old Treasury Building on Spring St.”
The Benalla Art Gallery is hosting a celebration of the exhibition on Saturday May 14 starting at 2 p.m. Numbers are limited. To secure your place, send an e-mail [email protected].