Tropical Tropes

27 Mar –
8 May 2021

Tropical Tropes brings together works by six artists who are represented in the Gallery’s Permanent Collection, exploring narratives around the theme of life in the tropics, and specifically address how the complex environment of the tropics can shape lives and inform perceptions of identity and belonging.

For many of us, reference to the tropics evokes images of a place of great beauty, of lush and bountiful vegetation and vivid colours. For others, the tropics engender a sense of fear and foreboding – a place that is deep and dark, impenetrable and menacing. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists living in far north Queensland, the tropics are home - a place that has provided food, shelter and cultural connection and identity for millennia.

Segar Passi, an important Elder from Mer (Murray) Island, has a deep knowledge of the marine life that abounds in the Torres Strait, which he records through carefully detailed drawings and watercolours. For Melanie Hava, a Mamu Aboriginal woman, of the Dugul-barra and Wari-barra family groups from the North Johnstone River catchment of the Wet Tropics of Far North Queensland, the hidden under-world of the Great Barrier Reef, with its ever-changing light, colours and dancing shapes of plants and animals, is a source of artistic inspiration.

Heather Koowootha, a Wik Mungkan, Djabuguy/Yidinji woman, recalls the rituals of growing up in remote communities in Cape York, and gathering native foods and plants as a child. Her carefully patterned works are based on these memories, while also serving to record important seasonal changes and the types of plants traditionally used for medicinal purposes.

Melbourne-based artist James Morrison grew up in the tropical environment of Papua New Guinea. His childhood memories of the landscape are largely imagined and fantastical and often include indicators of times past and times future in order to convey a world of abundance and exoticness.

Roland Nancarrow lives and works in Cairns and has an enduring passion for the tropics. In recent years he visited tropical South America where he was captivated by its tropical bird and plant life, references to which are evident in his new works.

The lush vegetation of the tropics has similarly inspired Melbourne-born artist and designer, Linda Jackson, who spent many years working in far north Queensland. The boldly colourful plants and flowers of the region are distinctive elements in her textile designs for clothing and furnishings.

Tropical Tropes continues the Gallery’s research interest in exploring our particular place in the world’s tropic zone and how artists who live and work in this region respond to and articulate social, environmental and political conditions specific to the tropics.

Melanie HAVA

Related Publications

Segar Passi:
Bakei, 1960s To the Present

View online | Purchase $4.95

James Morrison Room Brochure

Linda Jackson Room Brochure



Artwork Labels

Kids activity sheet


Selected works


Installation images

The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. 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.