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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

More about In the flesh

Still Life (Pieta), 2007 by Sam Jinks
Still Life (Pieta) (detail) by Sam Jinks

In the flesh confronts humanness – the experience of having a human mind enfleshed in a human body. Considering humanness can be enlivening, unsettling, joyous and weird. The human mind sees into and beyond itself, reflects on time and strives to connect with other minds. This soaring mind, from birth, through life and approaching death, must come to terms with the reality of existing inside a fleshy, organic, animal body. This concept underpins portraiture and is explored in the work of Australian contemporary artists Jan Nelson, Natasha Bieniek, Patricia Piccinini, Juan Ford, Petrina Hicks, Ron Mueck, Yanni Floros, Sam Jinks, Michael Peck and Robin Eley. Mind and body both clash and are entangled. In these works, this is intensely realised through moments of intimacy, empathy, transitions in life and the transience of life, vulnerability, alienation, restlessness, self-reflection, mortality and acceptance.

Sound tour

Our In the flesh sound tour is a different way of experiencing the work – through intense, personal, funny, unexpected, moving stories that evoke the exhibition themes. We approached people with personal and professional backgrounds where thinking about what it means to be human would be part of their everyday life.

Sensation: The Sensory Space

Our in-gallery family-experience space embraces the instinctive, automatic and uncontrolled human mind. A giant pink tongue will lead you into an immersive, fleshy, organic space to feel and touch. Artists Patricia Piccinini and Sam Jinks have donated items in the blind-touch boxes where you can reach in and feel the bodily shapes.

Family tour

The fun family trail will assist children and their families to engage with In the Flesh. It contains questions that are designed to encourage open discussion and creative thinking. Family-friendly definitions of each theme are included in the trail. Families can take home this playful booklet and continue their exploration of what it means to be human.

Small Things, 2012 by Sam Jinks
Small Things, 2012 by Sam Jinks
Small Things, 2012 by Sam Jinks
Small Things, 2012 by Sam Jinks

Intimacy

In experiencing intimacy the human mind wrestles with the impossible task of being as one with another. Sculptor Sam Jinks unites the textures of the human body and human emotion in these works addressing moments of intimacy.

The Long Awaited, 2008 by Patricia Piccinini
The Long Awaited, 2008 by Patricia Piccinini
The Long Awaited, 2008 by Patricia Piccinini
The Long Awaited, 2008 by Patricia Piccinini

Empathy

Patricia Piccinini places empathy at the heart of her practice. The tenderness of the moment dominates.

Woman and child, 2010 by Sam Jinks
Woman and child, 2010 by Sam Jinks
Woman and child, 2010 by Sam Jinks
Woman and child, 2010 by Sam Jinks

Transience

These paintings by Juan Ford and sculptures by Sam Jinks evoke the impermanence of human life.

Walking in tall grass, Viktor, 2005 by Jan Nelson
Walking in tall grass, Viktor, 2005 by Jan Nelson
Walking in tall grass, Viktor, 2005 by Jan Nelson
Walking in tall grass, Viktor, 2005 by Jan Nelson

Transition

We fix adolescence as the time of inner turmoil, private worlds and secret refuges, doubt and imagination, protest and liberation. The human mind and body never really leaves this state of transition.

Wild Man, 2005 by Ron Mueck
Wild Man, 2005 by Ron Mueck
Wild Man, 2005 by Ron Mueck
Wild Man, 2005 by Ron Mueck

Vulnerability

London-based artist Ron Mueck creates an intense awareness of the different ways in which we experience vulnerability and a strong sense of tenderness is never far away.

Adams Apple, 2013 by Petrina Hicks
Adams Apple, 2013 by Petrina Hicks
Adams Apple, 2013 by Petrina Hicks
Adams Apple, 2013 by Petrina Hicks

Alienation

Segregated from their fellow humans in cellophane prisons, reference points are removed, so it is not certain whether these naked figures could be unwrapped, are about to be subsumed, or will forever be suspended in a plastic stasis.

Rose, 2011 by Natasha Bieniek
Rose, 2011 by Natasha Bieniek
Rose, 2011 by Natasha Bieniek
Rose, 2011 by Natasha Bieniek

Restlessness

Natasha Bieniek Most of Bieniek’s subjects are reclining, but none are resting – they have in the artist’s words a ‘melancholia, restlessness and uneasiness'.

The Reorientalist, 2013 by Juan Ford
The Reorientalist, 2013 by Juan Ford
The Reorientalist, 2013 by Juan Ford
The Reorientalist, 2013 by Juan Ford

Reflection

A coincidence of intense self-reflection and the motif of the play-weapon occurs in the work of Melbourne artists Juan Ford and Michael Peck.

Still Life (Pieta), 2007 by Sam Jinks
Still Life (Pieta), 2007 by Sam Jinks
Still Life (Pieta), 2007 by Sam Jinks
Still Life (Pieta), 2007 by Sam Jinks

Mortality

In Western religious art a Pietà, also called a ‘lamentation’, is an image of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.

Bedroom, 10.30 pm (from 'The Fitzroy Series'), 2011 by Patricia Piccinini
Bedroom, 10.30 pm (from 'The Fitzroy Series'), 2011 by Patricia Piccinini
Bedroom, 10.30 pm (from 'The Fitzroy Series'), 2011 by Patricia Piccinini
Bedroom, 10.30 pm (from 'The Fitzroy Series'), 2011 by Patricia Piccinini

Acceptance

Patricia Piccinini’s photographic series SO2 and The Fitzroy Series explore human acceptance of difference – applied empathy – through children’s interactions with trans-species creatures.

Related information

Divide, 2011 by Sam Jinks
Divide, 2011 by Sam Jinks
Divide, 2011 by Sam Jinks
Divide, 2011 by Sam Jinks

In the flesh

Previous exhibition, 2014

In the flesh is an enthralling and immersive experience of contemporary art that confronts the concept of humanness and the experiences of consciousness and emotion. Featuring ten Australian artists including Jan Nelson, Patricia Piccinini, Ron Mueck and Michael Peck, the exhibition explores themes of intimacy, empathy, transience, transition, vulnerability, alienation, restlessness, reflection, mortality and acceptance.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery building at night

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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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