Reviews

A Young Black Kangaroo

Photography Exhibition Review

A Young Black Kangaroo | Dean Qiulin Li 

PhotoAccessonline| https://www.gallery.photoaccess.org.au/young-black-start

A Young Black Kangaroo by Dean Qiulin Li is an ongoing photographic project documenting people and stories from the public housing community in Woolloomooloo. Li is an early career artist deeply committed to a humanitarian photographic practice.

Let me deal with the title first. Woolloomooloo is thought to have been derived from a local Aboriginal, possibly Gadigal, word meaning a young black kangaroo. The artist uses this translation to reference the area’s colonial history.

I lived in Potts Point for a short period in the late 60s and walked through Woolloomooloo each day going to and from work. I loved exploring and getting to know it – in a general sense only.

In February 1973, the Builders Labourers Federation placed a two-year long green ban on the area to stop the destruction of low-income housing and trees. It succeeded and 65% of the houses were placed under rent control. Most Australians living at that time would know of the ‘Loo because of the associated media coverage.

Children were often encouraged to commit the difficult to spell name to memory through spelling rhymes, one of which includes:

It’s easy to say, I know very well,

But Woolloomooloo is not easy to spell.

Double U double O double L double O M double O L double O

A catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition suggests that browsing through the entire image series is like visiting your neighbours. The artist “tells stories as if reading a book to you, carrying you along with memories and emotions”. Li himself says his project is “about flipping common perspectives of public housing residents on their head, showing the true side to life. It is an exploration of the underlying stories within the four walls of what one calls home.” Both are excellent descriptions of this exhibition.

In another catalogue essay, Rozee Cutrone shares her personal story of becoming a resident, revealing that she has “been vilified, ridiculed, judged, physically attacked, had my home set on fire, undermined and underestimated.” That one story alone is a great reason for Li’s exploration.

Amongst the sometimes charming, other times confronting, images we see Rayson, with his striped shirt styled with those glasses, revealing something of his teenage years. There are many simple moments on display, giving viewers a sense of déjà vu.

Faith was photographed in her living room. A well-known indigenous activist who fights for the rights of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders, as well as the minorities in Australia, she and Li had a few cigarettes together in her backyard whilst she shared some of her bitter past.

Then there is Daniel and some of the pigeons he feeds, Ike and his guitar, as well as Ronny and his collections room. There is Con with his dog, and a view through his window. Tyriesha and Oscar show us how they cuddle. Sabrina poses in front of her boyfriend’s painting of their favourite characters Joker and Harley Quinn. Rayson shows us a photo of himself with Elvis.

Richie, a retired drag queen sitting in his designer couch, says the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was based on his life.

Richie, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

There is a flamingo is inside Richie’s kitchen.

Flamingo, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

And Ayesha, a famous transgender dancer in Kings Cross from the 70s to 90s, says there is a documentary online about her life.

Ayesha, 2020  © Dean Qiulin Li

There are so many stories here. They have been woven together wonderfully. There would be many more, but the selection shown certainly successfully portrays these public housing residents of the ‘Loo.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 25/9/21 here and on the Canberra Critics Circle’s blog here.

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