Who Are You: Australian Portraiture

‘Who Are You’ is a free exhibition on view now at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra until 29 January 2023. Comprised of portraits of and by Australians the show explores identity, place, memory, spirituality and history of the artist and sitter across a variety of media incluing painting, film, photography, screen printing and sculpture. The 130 works are drawn from the NPG collection and the National Gallery of Victoria, where the exhibition was previously shared.

The works in the show have been divided into several categories; Person and Place, Meet the Artist, Inner Worlds, Outer Selves, Intimacy and Alienation, and last but not least Icons and Identities. You can book a guided tour here, which goes for half an hour every morning.

Portraits that are tied to the notion of Person and Place particularly echo the importance, as the gallery says, that ‘for First Nations people, person and place are intertwined both culturally and spiritually, forming an intrinsic union between Country and self, stories of colonisation and migration are also deeply bound to this nation.’ This connection is also extended to portraits of refugee and migrant people.

Seven sisters song Kaylene Whiskey. National Gallery of Victoria. Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Monga Khan 1916, 2016; printed 2019 Peter Drew. National Gallery of Victoria. Purchased, NGV Supporters of Prints and Drawings, 2020.

Meet the Artist is a curious and engaging thread to consider. The artworks in this realm prompt us to think about what the artist’s choices, from sitter to medium and as the gallery notes it ‘explores what the artists intend to reveal or exclude about themselves through their self-representations, considering the environment in which the artists are placed, and the props and imagery they choose to include in their works.’

Self Portrait #2, 1947/2007 William Yang, an unknown artist. © William Yang

Inner Worlds, Outer Selves is a delineation which looks at the reality that ‘a true artistic likeness can only ever be approximate’ and therefore the possibilities of portraiture goes beyond the exterior, we can gain insight into the subconscious too.

Lauren, 2003 Petrina Hicks. National Gallery of Victoria. Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2006.

Portraits of loved ones, family, nudes, and people in other states of vulnerability comprise the Intimacy and Alienation curation, where as in Icons and Identities we also see culture and dear ones on display but there is the question of the politics of remembering, or as the gallery muses, ‘questioning who is remembered, and who is not.’

Federation series: 1901-2001, 2001 Dr Julie Dowling. National Gallery of Victoria. Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Rupert Myer, Governor, 2001

To engage more deeply with the curation and themes in the presentation you may enjoy this panel discussion. We hope you enjoy Who Are You!