Queen’s Land

Blak Portraiture

17 May –
11 Aug 2019

Queen’s Land Blak Portraiture explores the relationships between personal, cultural and national identity in relation to historical and contemporary portrait images by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.

Focussing on contemporary portraits, the exhibition explores how prevailing social, political, economic and cultural conditions, past and present, have shaped perceptions and representations of Indigenous Queenslanders. The works selected for the exhibition also reflect government policies that shaped public attitudes and the lives of Indigenous peoples in Queensland.

Historical portraits include archival photographs from early colonial times and from extensive mission settlement which in turn led to segregation, the control of Aboriginal peoples’ movements, and the removal of children from parents. The effects of these are evident in the virtual lack of representation of Indigenous peoples in the mid-twentieth century. It was not until 1967 that Indigenous Australians were counted in the national census.

While their cultures and histories of contact with white settlers are very different, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples share a similar understanding of portraiture and identity which does not conform to a Western art construct of a vertical image or representation of a person. Rather, a person’s image can be portrayed through a cultural totem, a body marking, a footprint or handprint, a particular place, person’s name, or a ritual.

Finally, the word blak is a 1990s construct. Removing the small ‘c’ from ‘black’ started as a play on words attributed to activist artist Destiny Deacon. Today, it is used to convey notions of empowerment and self-determination.


Selected Works

 Installation Images



This project is presented in partnership with the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. It has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia Program and is supported by The John Villiers Trust, and the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) that is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. 


The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.