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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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From riot to revelry

William Yang’s Mardi Gras photographs are a reflection of his own emerging freedom through the decades, not to mention his documentation of ‘party time!’

1 Graham Sylvester's crowd, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1983. 2 Asian Lesbian and Gay Pride Group, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1993. 3 Lebanese Lesbians, New Mardi Gras, 2003. 4 Poof, Gay Mardi Gras, 1984. 5 Nexus, Gay Mardi Gras, 1981. 6 [Silence = Death, Action = Life written on the chests of two males, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1993], 1993. All William Yang. Collection: National Library of Australia © William Yang.

On the evening of 24 June 1978, five hundred activists gathered in Taylor Square, Sydney. Marking the anniversary of New York’s Stonewall riots, they marched, seeking an end to police persecution and the repeal of anti-homosexual laws. 53 marchers were taken to Darlinghurst police station that night, after being harassed and beaten by police. This rights march would become Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the southern hemisphere’s largest festival, incorporating a massive public parade celebrating love and community. The police now take part. William Yang began documenting Sydney’s queer community in the 1970s.  ‘People were celebrating the breaking of a thousand years of oppression’, he told the ABC in a 2019 interview. Often working in series and reflecting on his Chinese-Australian and queer identity, Yang is one of Australia’s most highly regarded photographers. Of documenting the scene, Yang notes, ‘This was part of the gay liberation process: you don't have to be ashamed anymore’.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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