NPPP 2022 | Various artists
National Portrait Gallery | 25 June – 9 October 2022
As I noted when reviewing the 2021 NPPP here, group exhibitions can be awkward to review because of the diversity of imagery subject matter and quality. In a major show such as this though, there is unlikely to be poor quality work. Furthermore, with a focus on portraiture the diversity is diminished. That’s not to suggest there is a sameness as there are many approaches to portraiture on display here. As in previous years, the diversity of the quality artwork delivers a powerful visual exhibition.
The winning work Silent Strength 2021, by well-known Indigenous photo artist Wayne Quilliam, is a fine portrait, beautifully portraying Culture through the rich colours in the ochres and feathers of his indigenous subject, and also his sense of pride. Quilliam is a lovely modest man and very proud of his prizewinning artist daughter who was with him at the media preview I attended. And he’s giving the $20,000 worth of gear he won to Indigenous communities and organising for them to learn to use it.
As always, in such shows, I look for works by locals and other people whom I know personally, as well as images by artists whom I follow. Canberrans in the show include Cat Leedon, with a powerful, perhaps confronting, self-portrait titled Breast Cancer, aged 37. It clearly shows the anguish she was feeling after her second breast surgery.
Fiona Bowring has a delightful Family Portrait, incorporating another shot of the same family hanging behind them. This again is a story which, no doubt, includes pain – it relates to palliative care and to love of family.
Greg Stoodley’s contribution is another self-portrait Greg & Orbit that I had seen previously on his website. The image was taken during lockdown and features a cat looking at his apparently bored face and supine body.
And then there is Lauren Sutton’s work Lauren and Poppy. Yes, another self-portrait during lockdown. All work cancelled, the artist took this and other selfies to document the time spent with her four-month-old daughter.
There are various other images made during restrictions, including Andrew Rovenko’s The Shuttle, a delightful shot of four-year-old astronaut Mia wearing her homemade space suit and helmet.
There are also other good portraits of Indigenous people, such as Cordy in the Clouds by Adam Haddrick.
There are people from other cultures, an Olympian, well-known people such as Barry Jones, a survivor of a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment, a 6’ 9” tall man, neighbours, lifelong friends, a dancer, music journalist Bob Gordon, and a young woman in transitional housing after a period of homelessness.
One of the represented photographers whose work I always appreciate is Michael Bowers. His work Stella is of a grandmother whose grandson was last seen where she is seated on the banks of the Gwydir River.
As in previous years, there are numerous works in this diverse exhibition that we all need to study and explore, such as Matthew Newton’s Indigo, featuring an activist, dressed as an endangered wedge-tailed eagle, heading into the Tarkine forests in Tasmania, where they spent a bitter winter to halt development of roading to access a planned tailings dam – yet to be built.
This is far more than pretty pictures, far more than high quality portraits. There are so many stories, so many varied aspects of our Australia and its peoples, so many identified issues for us to think about – all revealed through the talented story-telling photographers using their insights and artistic skills to depict their subjects.
We who view the works are privileged to gain access into the personal lives and emotions of the people portrayed.
This review was first published on page 23 of The Canberra Times of 11 July 2022 and online here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.