Five Challenging New Art Exhibitions to Jumpstart Your January

Start your year perusing one hundred Chinese surnames carved in tofu.
Annie Murney
Published on January 12, 2016

Five Challenging New Art Exhibitions to Jumpstart Your January

Start your year perusing one hundred Chinese surnames carved in tofu.

Was one of your New Year's Resolutions to 'see more art'? There's no time like the first month of the year to get started. Sydney's galleries are kicking off 2016 with some hard-hitters, large-scale installation shows and local collaborations. From the first major Australian exhibition of one of Ghana's most prolific artists to a huge group show teasing out Australia's complicated national identity, these five shows aren't for idly cruising through. Switch that brain on and make a note of the gallery's nearest pub for post-exhibition beery debates.


  • 5
    Chen Qiulin: One Hundred Names

    This is the first solo show in Australia for Chinese artist Chen Qiulin. Her practice draws upon her experience growing up in Wanzhou City in Western China and the confluence of natural and urban landscapes. In recent years, the rapid urbanisation of China has becoming central to her work, which explores the intricacies of city planning, architectural hierarchies as well as tensions between tradition and technology.

    The centrepiece and namesake of the show is the impressive One Hundred Names, consisting of the most common Chinese family names, carefully carved out of tofu. This edible artwork is designed to gradually decay over time, symbolising the material transformation that inevitably follows intensive labour. The exhibition will also feature a range of photographic, video and performance works.

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  • 4
    Splitting Sides - MOP Projects

    Kicking off the year at MOP Projects is Splitting Sides, a vibrant new exhibition focused on cultural disparities. Curators Andrew Christie and Brigitte Gerges will bring together a group of emerging artists in order to tease out the multifaceted nature of Australian identity.

    Dominic Byrne, a self-described “disembodied performer”, will explore different representations of the self in comical ways. Drawing on her Chinese heritage, Frankie Chow’s work confronts the fierceness of racial abuse. Her performance project will use laughter as a method of overcoming aggression against minorities. Martin James is concerned with the nature of time within the act of migrating. Using Australia’s landscape as a visual language, he’ll reflect on the time taken to flee, to search for a new home, to wait indefinitely and to eventually resettle. Handi Saleh’s work springs from Islamic calligraphy, fleshing out its formal qualities into sculptural representations. And finally, Andrea Srisurapon delves into the hybrid cultural identity of her own family.

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  • 3
    El Anatsui: Five Decades

    The first major Australian exhibition from Ghanian artist El Anatsui, Five Decades is an ambitious compilation of works inside Carriageworks running Sydney Festival all the way to March. Showcasing more than 30 works from the 1970s to the current day, this highly ambitious exhibition will reflect a broad thematic spectrum of the artist’s themes and media, from large-scale installations to works on paper.

    Beginning from Anatsui’s early flair for mixing different aesthetic styles, the exhibition will trace the evolution of his practice. From 1998 onward, the artist became fixated with repurposing materials, such as wood, aluminium printing plates, tin boxes and liquor bottle tops. Also bubbling underneath his work is the rich cultural imagery of West Africa, which is tied to deeper issues around colonisation and post-colonisation.

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  • 2
    Adrian Paci: The Column

    Watch this breathtaking piece of filmmaking and you’ll never take a marble column for granted again. Armed with his camera, Albanian video artist Adrian Paci set out to follow a slab of marble — starting with its extraction from the earth, through its journey over vast oceans, to its chiselling, by the hands of an extraordinarily dedicated group of Chinese labourers.

    Touching on themes of dislocation, exploitation and globalisation (without sledgehammering them), Paci employs an epic, transcendent approach, creating a work that’s beautiful and devastating at the same time. The Column was a smash hit at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. Before that, it exhibited in Paris, as part of Paci’s Lives in Transit exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, and in Milan at PAC.


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  • 1
    When Silence Falls

    Drawing on acknowledged events, this new show at the Art Gallery of NSW will shine a light on groups of people who have been excluded from mainstream debates and media coverage. The works featured will focus on political repression, cultural displacement, ethnic cleansing and massacres. Reeling in events unfolding on the peripheries of society, When Silence Falls is an exercise in cultural democracy and inclusivity.

    Curated by Cara Pinchbeck, the exhibition presents work from contemporary Aboriginal artists alongside international artists. These artists include Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Daniel Boyd, Fiona Hall, Ben Quilty, Hossein Valamamesh, Doris Salcedo, Paddy Bedford, William Kentridge, Rusty Peters, Pedro Reyes, Doris Salcedo, Timmy Timms, Kara Walker and Judy Watson.

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