The National Portrait Gallery reflects on who we are

How well do you know who you are, and who you think you are, from how others see you? In order to better understand how Australians have been perceived throughout history, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has opened the doors to its new exhibition.

Who are you: the Australian portrait features 130 works, combining collections from the NPG and the National Gallery of Victoria, and is on display until 29 January 2023. Entrants are encouraged to ponder the question of title as they browse through the five distinct sections of Australian portraiture on display.

The images on display speak to the connection between people and place, emphasizing the relationship between artists, their subjects and the environment. Then, participants witness the evolution of the portrait, from paintings to high-quality photographs. Ideas of community, what it means to be included and how one feels isolated are explored. Then we move on to deep concepts that capture the inner workings of the minds of artists and sitters. Finally, we explore our leaders and icons, and the narrative we’ve built for them.

Telling our story both as individuals and as a collective using photography and portraiture allows viewers to easily connect with the works without too much explanation. NPG co-curator Joanna Gilmour believes, arguably, that portraiture is a more accessible genre because it’s about people and what it means to be human.

“We are hardwired to connect and be curious about others, and the portraits seem to tap into that in all of us. They allow us to connect with other lives, no matter how distant or distant those lives may be, temporally, socially or geographically of our own,” says Gilmour.

Travel through different countries and periods and you will see how art and portraiture differ; what is beautiful somewhere may be neglected elsewhere. Gilmour says Australian portraiture is unique in the way it encompasses identities and experiences as diverse and multifaceted as the country itself. We are home to one of the oldest living cultures in the world and continuously welcome people from cultures around the world while sharing a sense of place.

The exhibition shows that Australian artists have always found ways to tell diverse and powerful stories by reinventing and reconfiguring the languages ​​and codes of a genre often seen as stuffy and traditional,” says Gilmour.

Find out who we are at the National Portrait Gallery until January 29; portrait.gov.au

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Julia P. Cluff