• It's my party, and I'll die if I want to, Sugar

    It's my party, and I'll die if I want to, Sugar (1994)

    David McDIARMID

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    McDiarmid's candy-coloured laser prints consider the bitter-sweet essence of life for many gay men in the 1990s. The texts employ a 'joke' sensationalism expressing shocking humour, anger and frustrated despair. Over the pure colours of the rainbow, itself a gay icon, lollypop texts spell out acid-tongued truths.

    McDiarmid's rainbow text panels consider the extreme emotional swings experienced by HIV-positive gay men. They also convey his personal response, as an HIV-positive artist, to the epidemic. Through their humour they open up a dialogue about the emotional and political issues that shape the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.

    McDiarmid has said, ‘My priority as an artist has always been to record and celebrate our lives. To bang the tribal drums of the jungle telegraph.’

  • Femmage frieze

    Femmage frieze 1998-2003

    Sally SMART

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    Sally Smart was born and raised in rural South Australia and has used her own life as a source of inspiration for her work, which has also been significantly influenced by feminism. Her Femmage frieze 1998–2003 includes images and forms that refer to Australia’s pioneering history, which in contrast to many nineteenth-century images, focus on the life and work of women.

    This work incorporates a 1970s concept of 'Femmage', a practice involving techniques of collage, assemblage, decoupage, photomontage, stitching, appliqué and quilting. It alludes to the creative art-forms that were often associated with women, but which have not been traditionally highly valued by art history.

  • (ALPHABET/HAEMORRHAGE)
Black Box of 100 Self Portrait Etchings 2

    (ALPHABET/HAEMORRHAGE) Black Box of 100 Self Portrait Etchings 2 (1992)

    Mike PARR

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    ALPHABET/ HAEMORRHAGE (Black box of 100 self portrait etchings) was made in 1992 when Mike Parr was reintroducing performance into his practice after a break of over a decade. The work comprises 100 small self-portrait etchings contained within a black box, and it was first 'performed' as 100 Breaths in 1992.

    Parr began his self-portrait project in 1982. Since that time he has produced more than 1,000 self-portraits in different media. Parr continuously makes self-portrait drawings using photographs or the mirror, or by drawing from memory. The endless variety of these works reveals the impossibility of fixing an image that is a 'true' representation of the essential self.

  • Human human - Carved lacquer bust 3 - Flower and bird

    Human human - Carved lacquer bust 3 - Flower and bird (2000-2001)

    Ah Xian

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    After settling in Australia in 1990 following the event in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, self-taught artist Ah Xian began to experiment with sculptural casts. This interest eventually led to his work with porcelain, and in turn, to the creation of his first porcelain busts in 1998.

    To gain the expertise necessary for this difficult medium and to achieve the exacting standards it demands, Ah Xian travelled to Jingdezhen, the renowned centre of China’s porcelain production from the early Ming through to the Qing period. Working in collaboration with artisans from various studio kilns throughout the city, Ah Xian created porcelain busts modelled from plaster casts of real-life figures. He decorated these in glazes with traditional Chinese designs of dragons, birds, flowers and landscapes.

    Executed in lacquer, Human human – flower bird represents the next phase in Ah Xian’s continued investigation of the traditional crafts of China. Despite the lure of the lustrous, seductive surface of this sculpture, the subject of Ah Xian’s ‘portrait’ remains unsettlingly removed from the viewer. Both the stillness of the work and the enforced silence of the sitter’s closed eyes and mouth create the sense that this anonymous man is almost imprisoned by the intricate decoration that tattoos and encases his body.

    Human human – Flower and bird subtly embodies, in both its creation and physicality, the tensions and complexity that arise from questioning issues surrounding national and cultural identity. 

  • My other lives, #7

    My other lives, #7 (2000)

    LIU Xiao Xian

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    Notes

    The inspiration for the series My other lives was taken from Mao Zedong’s aphorism ‘history is created by humans’. Using the nineteenth century technique of stereographs (twinned images that appear three-dimensional when placed in a special viewer), the artist playfully, but pointedly, constructs an alternative Australian history in which Chinese people dominate. He does this by digitally inserting his own face into one half of the twinned photographic image. Through this method Liu manifests his ‘other lives’ as in turn, an elegantly dressed Edwardian lady (as in the image shown here); a small boy; a man riding a penny farthing and a Masonic Lodge member.


Identity

Gender, sexuality and the self

Our personal identity is influenced by our nationality and cultural background but it is also shaped by our own unique characteristics and life experiences. Our age, physical appearance, gender, sexuality and particular talents and interests all help to define who we are.

  • Sexuality and gender

    Sexuality is a fundamental part of our identity. How we choose to express it and how society chooses to condone or condemn it has provoked a range of responses from contemporary Australian artists.

    In his work It's my party and I'll die if I want to sugar 1994, David McDiarmid uses high-voltage colour and cheeky humour to talk about the complexity of human relationships in the age of HIV and AIDS. This work is one of a series of prints that takes a defiant stance against intolerance and prejudice expressed toward gay people and people living with HIV and AIDS.

    Sally Smart uses her own life as a source of inspiration for her work, which has also been influenced by feminism. Her Femmage frieze 1998–2003 includes images and forms that refer to Australia’s pioneering history, with a particular focus on the life and work of women. Smart has used 'Femmage' to make the work, a practice involving a range of art forms that are often associated with women and which have not been traditionally highly valued by art history.

  • Self portraiture

    Perhaps one of the most direct and immediate ways for artists to explore notions of personal identity is to create a self-portrait.

    Mike Parr began making self-portrait drawings in the early 1980s. His first etching was produced in 1987 and printmaking subsequently has become central to his art practice. To make the self-portraits, Parr works from photographs, the mirror and memory, drawing spontaneously or manipulating images through photocopying.

    These distorted, disembodied self-portraits reveal intellectual, emotional and physical states. Like many contemporary artists, Parr’s work challenges the idea that identity can be clearly defined and presents us with multiple perspectives.

  • Cross-cultural identities

    Ah Xian uses portraiture to explore personal identity within the broader context of cultural and national identity.  His sculpture Human human – flower bird 2000 seduces us with its lustrous surface and yet the subject of Ah Xian’s ‘portrait’ remains unsettlingly absent. His work encourages us to think about the lasting significance of cultural background and the possible differences in meaning between cultures, and to question our assumptions about Chinese identity. 20

    Chinese-born artist Liu Xiao Xian also explores ideas of personal and cultural identity in his series My other lives 2000. Using the nineteenth-century stereographic process (where twinned images appear three-dimensional when placed in a special viewer), he constructs an alternative Australian history in which European and Chinese faces are made equal. He does this by digitally inserting his own face into one half of the twinned photographic image. Through this method Liu manifests his ‘other lives’.21

Endnotes

  • 20 Kelly Gellatly in Ted Gott, Laurie Benson and contributors, 20th Century Painting and Sculpture in the International Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 134

    21 Isobel Crombie, Light Sensitive, Contemporary Australian Photography from the Loti Smorgon Fund, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006, p. 19.