chinese whispers and other stories

There’s a photography exhibition coming to Canberra and Melbourne, all about Chinese and Asian-Australian identities. It’s called Chinese Whispers and Other Stories, and it features works from four female artists: Janelle Low (the youngest person to ever win the National Photographic Portrait Prize), Tammy Law (whose photo series Belonging in Motion looks at the dualities surrounding the idea of home), interdisciplinary artist Siying Zhou (whose video Our First Lamington Made in Australia captures the experience of a Chinese couple baking a lamington) and Pia Johnson (a shutterbug who examines her Chinese and Italian-Australian cultural heritage as part of her ongoing practice).

Pia’s also the curator of the exhibition, and was nice enough to have a little chat with us about what inspired it all. Scroll down to have a read. Oh, and don’t forget to pop past PhotoAccess at Manuka Arts Centre in Canberra (between Thursday April 27th and Sunday May 21st) or Blindside Gallery in Melbourne (between Wednesday June 21st and Sunday July 8th), if you want to check out the show.

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A still from Our First Lamington Made in Australia by Siying Zhou.

What inspired the exhibition Chinese Whispers and Other Stories? I wanted to present artworks that spoke to and disrupted the stereotypes of how we understand and see Chinese and Asian-Australian identities in Australia today, and give a voice to the female, non-white perspective. I think it’s the perfect time to engage with these issues, and hopefully challenge the way we think about and participate in the East and West cultural conversation.

How did you go about curating the exhibition? It was quite an organic process. I was making new work about my Eurasian heritage, titled Family Resemblance, after Wittgenstein, and I was also spending quite a bit of time researching and talking to a range of artists whose work had similar concerns to what I was exploring. The actual connections came through a series of coincidental meetings and recommendations.

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Photo from Tammy Law's Belonging in Motion series.

Have you made any new friends as a result of doing this project? Yes, it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve become quite close to two of the artists, and it has opened up a fantastic exchange of ideas and artistic conversation.

When did you first know you wanted to be a photographer? To be honest, it was quite late. I had a number of other starts, from an artistic career to more artistic administration roles. Photography was something I spent my spare time engaging with, and my husband was the one that told me perhaps I should pursue it more seriously. From there I taught myself a lot of the basics and spent time assisting other photographers before going out on my own and making art and taking commissions. Can’t imagine doing anything else now!

What areas, things or people in your neighbourhood do you most like to photograph? I’m lucky to live in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria. It’s such a beautiful country landscape. I love that it has definite seasons, and the landscape is ever-changing. The other major thing I like to photograph is my beautiful daughter. She’s two now, and I can’t stop taking snaps of her.

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Photos by Pia Johnson.

What advice can you offer on finding your personal style or aesthetic? I tell my students all the time that it’s important to photograph the things that matter to you, and to do so in your own way. A personal style or aesthetic is that intuitive way you see and create a picture. I think it takes a while before you start becoming aware of your personal style. Just keep taking photographs, always engage with artists and exhibitions, and make sure you make art about what you care about.

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Photos by Janelle Low.

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