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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.

Kevin Gilbert and Joe in discussion outside Anti-Bicentennial and Treaty Meeting Balmain Town Hall Sydney, 1987

Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 40.7 cm x 50.6 cm, image: 31.9 cm x 44.1 cm)

Kevin Gilbert (1933-1993), Indigenous activist, writer and artist, wrote the first play by an Aboriginal person to be publicly performed in Australia. Born in Condoblin, NSW, of Wiradjuri, English and Irish heritage, he grew up on reserves and fringe settlements, beginning to work itinerantly at the age of fourteen. In 1957, when he was 23, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the domestic murder of his non-Aboriginal wife. He served more than fourteen years in prison, during which period he began to make lino-cuts and wrote the play The Cherry Pickers. In 1973, two years after his release on parole, his land-rights tract Because a White Man’ll Never Do It was published. Five years later he won the National Book Council Award for an oral history collection, Living Black, which became a secondary-school textbook. He was chair of the Treaty '88 campaign, lobbying for the establishment of a treaty enshrining Aboriginal rights and sovereignty. In this capacity he also organised the touring photography exhibition Inside Black Australia, which included his own work. An anthology of Aboriginal poetry of the same name won him the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Award for Literature in 1988. However, he spurned the honour, feeling, according to his widow Eleanor, that ‘he could not accept such an award while his people were denied human rights in their own land’. In 1992 he received an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship from the Australia Council; the National Gallery of Australia acquired many of his prints in the 1990s. Following his death from emphysema at the age of 60, his memorial service took place at the Tent Embassy. The inaugural exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008, Open Air, featured a portrait of Gilbert accompanied by one of his poems, as well as his print Christmas Eve in the Land of the Dispossessed. Gilbert’s Canberra-based family curated I Do Have a Belief: Kevin Gilbert (1933-1993) at Canberra’s Belconnen Arts Centre in 2013.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Juno Gemes 2010
© Juno Gemes

Accession number: 2010.122

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Juno Gemes (age 43 in 1987)

Kevin Gilbert (age 54 in 1987)

Subject professions

Activism

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Juno Gemes (19 portraits)

Related information

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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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.