Braving Time: Contempora­ry Art in Queer Australia

National Art School Galleries, Sydney 3 February – 18 March


The entrance to the National Art School Galleries is almost unrecognis­able. What previously appeared as an empty white threshold – an invisible space of permanent transition that one passes through without pause – now presents itself in a very di’erent guise, as a marble shrine. Thine Shrine, Divine (2023) is an installati­on by The Arthitects (Gary Carsley and Renjie Teoh) that seeks to memorialis­e the ‘ancestors’ and ‘non-biological genealogie­s’ of the ¥¦§¨©ª«+ community. An animated classical bust on a nearby screen incants a spread of names – “Alan Turing”, “Mrs Dalloway”, “Claude Cahun”, “Rupaul Charles” – building a queer pantheon with each new utterance. Of course, there has been no major architectu­ral remodellin­g here: the installati­on is actually constructe­d out of sheets of paper, which only create a flat shallow illusion of the classical facade. Yet despite its kitsch material skin, the interventi­on that lies beneath this playful surface is driven by the most serious sense of historical consequenc­e.

The choice to begin Braving Time: Contempora­ry Art in Queer Australia with this shrine is progressiv­ely justified by the eclectic spread of subsequent artworks. Both the show and the shrine have a catholic, rather than Catholic, doctrine. Tracking the movements of an ever-evolving community, the exhibition is underwritt­en by a concern with history and the process of history-making. With a breadth that stretches from the present-day back to the 1960s, the exhibition refutes even the slightest murmurs of a singular or essentiali­sed queer experience, through the inherent diversity of artworks that are responding to notably distinct historical circumstan­ces. From Vivienne Binns’s pioneering feminist works, to William Yang’s intimate documentat­ion of his friend and ex-lover Allan’s battle with ³ª´/«ªµ¶, to Tony Albert’s confrontat­ion with colonial legacies, through the repurposin­g of vintage objects that contain stereotype­s of First Nations Australian­s.

Yet the most compelling work in the exhibition is Ali Tahayori’s There is no Queer in Iran (2022), which stages the fight for queer identity and recognitio­n. Composed of tiny hand-cut mirrors, which fragment the viewer’s reflection into a barely legible kaleidosco­pic array, the work’s very material form forces one to reckon with the idea of presence. While the mirror is one of the most tired signifiers of identity used in art, Tahayori reworks it into something that hums with complexity and nuance. Mobilising the traditiona­l Iranian craft of Āina-kāri (mirrorwork­ing), Tahayori’s work produces a mazelike geometry. Its shape is not, however, idle but filled with meaning. It is, in fact, a mixture of Kufic and Farsi calligraph­y that reproduces an excerpt from Wikipedia, which explains that some believe that there is no Farsi equivalent for the word ‘queer’. Here, we find echoes of the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadineja­d’s famous 2007 statement: ‘In Iran, we don’t have homosexual­s like in your country’. Tahayori’s work harbours charged politics within its intentiona­lly illegible form, which does not automatica­lly unfold itself to the viewer. It brilliantl­y leaves us in a state of both visual and cognitive fragmentat­ion – sensing the presence of meaning and reaching for it, while in the same gesture being denied it. Tai Mitsuji

 ?? ?? Ali Tahayori, There is no queer in Iran, 2022, hand-cut mirrors and plaster on timber. Courtesy the artist
Ali Tahayori, There is no queer in Iran, 2022, hand-cut mirrors and plaster on timber. Courtesy the artist

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