Being Human Human Being

Date June - December 2022
Location Soho Photography Quarter, The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Being Human Human Being
Dr Christian Thompson AO

Presented by the Photographers’ Gallery and Photo Australia / PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography, Melbourne

This summer, The Photographers’ Gallery will launch Soho Photography Quarter, a permanent new outdoor cultural space, presenting the very best of contemporary photography, for free. The opening presentation for Soho Photography Quarter, Being Human Human Being, comprises a large-scale, site-specific installation of works – including striking colour images and projections – by the acclaimed Indigenous Australian contemporary artist, Dr Christian Thompson AO.

Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. Thompson’s works explore notions of identity, sexuality, gender, cultural hybridity, memory and history, often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Through performances and conceptual  ‘anti-portraits’, he inhabits a range of personae achieved through incorporating handcrafted costumes and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

The open-air exhibition will present selected works from the series’ King Billy (2010), Polari (2014), Equinox (2018) and Flower Walls (2018-ongoing), all of which reflect on indigenous and diverse representation. Thompson fuses both specific references and universal symbols to create a distinct, often unconventional visual language. King Billy (2010) draws on traditional portraiture, fashion photography, advertising, music promos and mugshots. The images show an anonymised figure, wearing a brightly coloured hoodie made from a textile customised with indigenous motifs and further adorned with symbols of power and authority (crown, pearls, medals etc). Positioned against a black backdrop, the subject commands a striking formidable presence, yet eschews any specific identity.

About the Artist

DR CHRISTIAN THOMPSON AO was born in 1978, Gawler, South Australia (Bidjara People). In 2010, Thompson made history when he became the first Aboriginal Australian to be admitted into the University of Oxford in its 900-year history. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art), Trinity College, University of Oxford, UK; a Master of Theatre, Amsterdam School of Arts, Das Arts, The Netherlands; a Masters of Fine Art (Sculpture) and Honours (Sculpture), both RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia; and a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. In 2015, he was mentored by performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Thompson has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, having been included in exhibitions such as ‘Australia’ at the Royal Academy for the Arts, London; ‘We Bury Our Own’, The Pitt Rivers Museum, SOLOS, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, Valencia Institute of Modern Art, Valencia, Spain; ‘The Other and Me’, The Sharjah Museum, United Arab Emirates, ‘Hijacked III’; QUOD Gallery, Derby, United Kingdom; ‘Shadow life’ Bangkok Art and Cultural centre, Bangkok, Thailand; and ‘The Beauty of Distance/ Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age’, 17th Biennale of Sydney. His works are held in major Australian and international collections. In 2018 he was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the visual arts as a sculptor, photographer, video and performance artist, and as a role model for young Indigenous artists.

Thompson’s work is held in major public and private collections including: Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Aboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands; The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford; University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane. A major survey exhibition of his work, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy toured throughout Australia from 2017–19. Thompson will present newly commissioned work as part of Photo 2022 International Festival of Photography in April 2022.

Featured Artworks

  • Art Frieze:
    King Billy, 2010
    Flower Walls, 2018 – Ongoing

    Polari, 2014
    Primeval Sea, 2018

    Dead Tongue, 2015
    Amsterdam, RMX, 2021

    Burdi Burdi (Fire Fire) QUOD Mix, 2022
    Phantom, 2022

About the Partners

  • About Soho Photography Quarter
    Soho Photography Quarter (SPQ) includes Ramillies Place, Ramillies Street and Hills Place. With new seating areas, trees, planters and improved lighting and air quality, it enhances
    access and creates for pedestrians and cyclists a safer, more intuitive space and connection between Oxford Street and Soho. The Quarter further enriches the West End’s cultural offer. The Quarter’s public realm scheme has been designed by Andreas Lechthaler Architecture and delivered by the Murphy Careys Joint Venture (MCJV).

    About The Photographers’ Gallery
    The Photographers’ Gallery opened in 1971 in Covent Garden, London, as the UK’s first independent and publicly funded gallery devoted to photography. It was the first UK gallery to exhibit many key names in international photography, including Juergen Teller, Robert Capa, Sebastiano Salgado and Andreas Gursky. The Gallery has also been instrumental in establishing contemporary British photographers, including Martin Parr and Corinne Day. In 2009 the Gallery relocated to a new multi-storey building in Ramillies Street, Soho and opened its doors to the public in 2012 after an ambitious redevelopment plan which provided the Gallery with three floors of state-of-the-art exhibition space as well  as an education/events studio, a gallery for commercial sales, bookshop and cafe. The success of The Photographers’ Gallery over the past four decades has helped to secure the medium’s position as a vital and highly regarded art form, introducing new audiences to photography and championing its place at the heart of visual culture.

    Photo Australia delivers Australia’s largest and most prestigious photography biennale. The most recent edition, PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography, took place in Melbourne from 29 April to 22 May 2022. Responding to the theme Being Human, 123 artists including Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, Mohamed Bourouissa, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Vasantha Yogananthan, Hoda Afshar and Poulomi Basu explored the contemporary human condition in 90 exhibitions, alongside a program of talks, tours, workshops and film screenings.

  • Christian Thompson AO
    Being Human Human Being, 2022
    c-type print on Fuji Metallic paper
    Commissioned by Photo Australia for PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography
    Image courtesy the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne

    Soho Photography Quarter featuring the exhibition ‘Christian Thompson: Being Human Human Being’
    © Luke Hayes, Courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery, London

    Christian Thompson AO
    Untitled #3 (from the King Billy series), 2010
    c-type print on Fuji lustre paper

    Image courtesy the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne

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