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So Fine

28 June 2018

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

Women artists make new perspectives on history in Portrait Gallery show So Fine

Ten women artists explore the possibilities of portraiture as a contemporary art form; and reinterpret and reimagine Australian history in the Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition So Fine: Contemporary women artists make Australian history.

Curators Sarah Engledow and Christine Clark developed the exhibition to enrich the contemporary narrative around Australia’s history and biography.

‘In the Portrait Gallery’s ever-growing collection, stories combine and recombine to form a national history. So Fine reflects the rich tradition of storytelling in our country as it presents new perspectives on the past,’ Engledow says.

So Fine reflects a fresh vision of history as ambivalent, comprising fragmentary, contradictory, marginal or many-layered stories, told from many different perspectives and by, or about, figures whose voices were long muffled because of their gender, social position, cultural practice or ethnic inheritance.’

‘The artists contributing to the exhibition are from very different parts of Australia, and of various ages and backgrounds. Aside from gender, their common attributes are a habit of serious thinking and a meticulous approach to creation. Their combined works are intricate, refined and affecting objects that will provide unique interpretations of history and biography in this strikingly beautiful exhibition,’ says Clark.

‘The themes the artists chose span the period from prehistory to the present. The women - of various ages, cultural backgrounds and demographic groups - present first encounters, convict experience, the suppression and survival of Indigenous people, the betrayal of children, the divided self of the immigrant and the excitement of scientific discovery.’

So Fine: Contemporary women artists make Australian history is on display at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, from 29 June 2018 until 1 October 2018. Tickets are priced at $10 for adults and $8 concession. Children under 18 are free.

A lavishly illustrated catalogue documenting the installed works will be published during the exhibition.

Several artists featured in the exhibition will contribute to a panel discussion on Saturday 30 June 2018 as part of the Writing lives, revealing lives: portraiture and personhood forum.

The forum is a partnership between the National Portrait Gallery and Australian National University and will run over two days from Saturday 30 June until Sunday 1 July 2018.

The exhibition and forum forms part of the Portrait Gallery’s twentieth birthday celebrations.

So Fine will include works from the following artists:

Senior Gija artist Shirley Purdie presents 36 paintings providing a kaleidoscope of perspectives on her culture and country, its familiar plants and animals and her family’s experiences on cattle stations in the East Kimberley.

Melbourne-based artist Bern Emmerichs’s obsessively detailed, witty painted ceramic pieces are inspired by the convict women who sailed to Van Diemen’s Land on the Rajah in 1841.

Brisbane-based photomedia artist Leah King-Smith draws on family photographs to present a lyrical series of portraits of her Bigambul mother.

Sydney sculptor Linde Ivimey honours Australian scientists in the Antarctic, uniting bones, skins and furs with other natural materials and hand-dyed, dextrously stitched fabrics.

Working from found colonial photographs, Melbourne artist Nusra Latif Qureshi has made exquisite golden paintings linked together with an entanglement of red and golden threads, reflecting on the ‘best self’ we persist in presenting for portraits.

Canberran painter Nicola Dickson sets paintings on canvas, painted coconut shells and words handcut from skin against a backdrop of sumptuous hand-blocked wallpaper, vividly evoking French encounters with indigenous Tasmanian and Pacific peoples in the eighteenth century.

Brisbane artist Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling) cuts breathtakingly delicate paper images that attest to the contributions of Chinese entrepreneurs and innovators in nineteenth-century Australia.

In Melbourne, Fiona McMonagle has painted innocents sent to Australia under the Child Migration Scheme, printing the images to overwhelming scale on poignant banners.

Scottish-Australian Canberra-based weaver Valerie Kirk reflects on what is lost and gained in emigration through intricate woollen tapestries and painted slates, exhibited with precious antique pieces of Ayrshire white embroidery.

Wathaurung-Scottish woman Carol McGregor has assembled delicately painted, patiently stitched possum skin cloaks and vessels, feathered pencils, woven hair and wire baskets to evoke stories waiting to emerge from Indigenous people whose personal histories have been occluded and suppressed.