Us: Atong Atem
Melbourne-based, Atong Atem draws from her South Sudanese heritage to create compelling photographic work that explores postcolonial practices in the diaspora, the relationship between public and private spaces and the notion of blackness and identity through staged portraiture.
Atong Atem’s works pay homage to West African studio photography in the 1960s popularised by those such as Mallik Sidibé and Seydou Keïta, whose works subverted the ethnographic gaze traditionally seen in colonial Africa. Following this tradition, Atong Atem turns the lens back on herself and her community, reclaiming the very tool that was used to deny black identity.
Critical, sentimental, and visually striking, Atem’s studio series use an array of cultural iconographies, black visual languages and diasporic traditions to return the camera to the colonised subject, and in turn, celebrates the personal and cultural identities of first and second generation Africans living in Australia.
Her self-portraits are equally as bold and just as declarative. As a young black woman, Atem uses both photography and social media as a powerful tool to analyse the world she lives in, her own experience and place in the world. Whether as a Martian, a marble statue, or decadently dressed with plastic flowers, Atem’s self-portraits perform and construct a sense of self and identity.
Customs House, Sydney, 13 February – 02 July 2017
An exhibition curated by the Australian Centre for Photography and presented at Customs House, Sydney.