Simryn Gill: A Small Town at the Turn of the Century

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Media Release: March, 2003.

A Small Town at the Turn of the Century the first solo exhibition of Malaysian-born, Australian-based photographer Simryn Gill’s work in New Zealand, opens at City Gallery Wellington on 23 March. A series of 39 images, A Small Town at the Turn of the Century, sees Simryn Gill revisit her home town of Port Dickson in Malaysia and transform the familiar into the strange by way of humorous intervention.

In A Small Town at the Turn of the Century, each photo is a portrait of a local inhabitant, but with a twist – the face of each photographed person is covered by a headdress fashioned from fruit, vegetables or flowers. Although we are given clues to the photographed people, without faces we are barred from really knowing them as individuals or personalities. The absurdity of the scenario can be seen to refer to essentialist notions of Asia as a place which is exotic and romantic, yet often masked to the western world as outsiders. Though seen together the images create a picture of a particular community at a particular point in time.

The large cibachrome photographs in this series continue Simryn’s interest in exploring the contested relationship between nature and culture. Many of her works have used horticulture as a metaphor for the human situation, such as Self-seeds (1998) where Simryn added miniature wheels to pods and seeds collected in Australia, Finland and Malaysia, transforming them into tiny vehicles which referred to the global spread of technology and foodstuffs.

A Small Town at the Turn of the Century has toured to the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney in 2001. It was also included in the Sydney Biennale, 2002. Simryn Gill has had major solo shows throughout Australia, as well as in Europe and South East Asia.