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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.

Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)

Born: 1979, Brisbane
Works: Brisbane

Pamela See
Video: 5 minutes 22 seconds

Artist statement

In this series, …Making Chinese Shadows, I am investigating the lives of 16 Chinese-Australians who persevered and flourished prior to the advent of the White Australia Policy. The title is a reference to the eighteenth century work The origin of painting: A family making ‘Chinese Shadows’, created by German painter Johann Eleazer Schenau. The painting makes a connection between the traditions of silhouette portraiture and Chinese papercutting.

I have embraced both. The compositions juxtapose ‘indexical’ silhouette portraiture with Chinese papercut florals and effigies. (The inception of the latter technique predates the invention of modern pulp-strained paper in 105 CE.) My technique resembles Foshan papercutting, which is endemic to the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, Guangdong Province.

1Wat A Che, 2017. 2Jimmy Ah Foo, 2017. Both Pamela See.

My choice of subjects represents the contribution of Chinese-Australians across a broad range of industries. They include maritime captain Ah Gim; interpreter Wat a Che; publican Jimmy Ah Foo; and Tim Sang, a carpenter, the series subject with the earliest date of arrival in Australia, 1836. Noting 1911 Commonwealth census figures showing Chinese men outnumbered women 20,453 to 322, my series also includes pre-federation Chinese women: herbalist Mrs Lup Mun; Lula, matriarch of the Chinn family; and Emma Tear Tack.

1Mrs Lup Mun, 2017. 2Lula Chinn, 2017. Both Pamela See.

I had a long-held misconception that the Chinese community in Australia burgeoned during the mid-eighties. I was not aware that, during the nineteenth century – in some areas of Australia – Chinese settlers outnumbered their European counterparts ten to one, with only half eventually repatriated to China. Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of literature revisiting the contribution of the Chinese community in Australian history, attaching a greater, commensurate level of acknowledgment. With …Making Chinese Shadows, I am contributing to this dialogue.

Video transcript

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12 portraits

1Yip Hoy, 2017. 2Captain Ah Gim, 2017. 3Chang Woo Gow, 2017. 4Tim Sang, 2017. All Pamela See.

Related people

Pamela See

Related information

Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey

So Fine

Contemporary women artists make Australian history

Previous exhibition, 2018

This exhibition features new works from ten women artists reinterpreting and reimagining elements of Australian history, enriching the contemporary narrative around Australia’s history and biography, reflecting the tradition of storytelling in our country.

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The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

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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.