The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

CULTURE CLUB

- William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen, until August 22, Queensland Art Gallery, qagoma.qld.gov.au

“The Chinese part of me was completely denied until my mid 30s”

He’s quietly spoken and there’s nothing showy about William Yang but there’s no denying he’s a star of Australian art. And now he’s the star of a major showing of his work. William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen is an exhibition featuring more than 250 works by this Australian photograph­er and performanc­e artist, which opens at the Queensland Art Gallery today.

“They are actually calling it a survey,” Yang says when we chat. “I call it a retrospect­ive although maybe you have to be dead to have one of those.”

But thankfully Yang, 77, is still very much with us and he will travel from his home in Sydney for the show. Mind you he’s often here anyway, visiting friends and family in Brisbane or his partner Scott at Buderim. Or at QAGOMA working on his exhibition, a project that has engrossed him in recent times with certain COVID interrupti­ons.

After studying at UQ as a young man he fled Queensland, possibly out of necessity. He was gay, from a Chinese background and interested in the arts and, in those days, that meant that heading south was de rigueur.

Born William Young in North Queensland in 1943, he changed his name to William Yang in 1983 to reclaim his Chinese heritage. He worked as a playwright from 1969 to 1974, and since then as a freelance photograph­er. His first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphil­es, caused a sensation because of its frank depiction of the Sydney gay scene. Since then he has documented his life and explored social milieu’s in his photograph­y and performanc­es.

In the mid-80s, Yang began to explore that Chinese heritage which had hitherto been lost to him by his complete assimilati­on into the Australian way of life. His photograph­ic themes expanded to include landscapes and the Chinese in

Australia. During this period he made visits to China and he is happy to embrace his ethnicity even though he was robbed of it early in his life. In the publicatio­n accompanyi­ng the exhibition Yang explains that his mother “thought being Chinese was a complete liability and wanted us to be more Australian than the Australian­s”. “So the Chinese part of me was completely denied and unacknowle­dged until I was in my mid 30s and I became Taoist,” Yang says. “I had to consciousl­y embrace it and I have been carrying the flag ever since.”

In one of his most famous self portraits, Life Lines #11, he is dressed in the traditiona­l garb of a Chinese scholar. He looks quite eminent and explains in the text on the work (his texts are useful because they help us understand where

Left, inkjet print, William in scholar’s costume; below, William Yang’s Patrick White

#1.

he’s coming from) that due to his enthusiasm about embracing his Chinese heritage “people called me Born Again Chinese and that’s not a bad descriptio­n”.

Yang grew up at Dimbulah on the Atherton Tableland and there is plenty of Queensland content in the exhibition, including works from a series he did exploring the tragic and somewhat mysterious murder of his uncle when he was a boy. It’s fascinatin­g to see his social world in Sydney in his younger days and the prominent identities who figure in some of his photos – the author Patrick White, the artist Brett Whiteley, the actor Cate Blanchett and others. His revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community and images of the Australian landscape are also compelling.

QAGOMA’s Rosie Hays curated this exhibition and she says there is “confession and courage in William’s storytelli­ng”. He also films and performs his work and the exhibition will include video and performanc­es and talks.

The Scrambler sausage and egg roll, above; the industrial-themed cafe’s indoor dining area, left; and the breakfast burrito, below left.

 ??  ?? BORN AGAIN:
BORN AGAIN:
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? DELICIOUS:
DELICIOUS:

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