Installation view of Atong Atem’s work on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne.    <br/>
Image: Tom Ross<br/>
Tom Ross 2023

Atong Atem

Atong Atem
(b. 1994, Ethiopia. Lives and works in Melbourne)

Atong Atem is a South Sudanese artist who was born in Ethiopia and migrated to Australia as a child. With an ongoing interest in portraiture, Atem uses photography to explore and examine postcolonial practices among the African diaspora in Melbourne. Many of her photographs take the form of self-portraits and portraits of friends, as well as installation and video works exploring migrant stories, cultures and identities.

For Melbourne Now, Atem premieres three new photographic self-portraits. Composed in the vibrant, staged yet intimate style she has become known for, Atem’s portraits draw – and build – on the history of studio photography in Africa, in particular the work of renowned Malian photographers Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta. In Patron saint of lap dogs, 2022, and Maria of Mars, 2022, radiant circles of light frame the artist’s face (and that of her canine companion) against intricate, textural backdrops. In Red dust sticks to you, 2022, a brick-coloured backdrop and make-up recall the hues of the Australian outback. Also featured in Melbourne Now are two of Atem’s neon works from 2021, both referencing native Australian flora in an unquestionably urban medium.

After relocating to Melbourne in 2014, Atem began exhibiting her photography in 2016 when she was included in a group exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary. That same year she was awarded the Melt Portrait Prize at Brisbane Powerhouse. Since then, she has participated in several group exhibitions, including the 2020 NGV Triennial, Rising Festival 2021 and PHOTO 2022, and held several solo exhibitions. She was awarded the NGV + MECCA Cosmetica MPower Grant in 2017, the Light Work (New York) residency in 2018, and the inaugural Art Gallery of New South Wales La Prairie Award in 2022.