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Australian art

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A small town at the turn of the century,



Simryn Gill

Singapore, Malaysia, Australia

1959 -


Simryn Gill was born in Singapore in 1959. She grew up in Port Dickson, Malaysia and was educated in India and the UK. Gill now lives and works in Sydney. She has exhibited widely in Australian and internationally including the 5th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey; 'Transculture', 1995 Biennale of Venice; CCA Kitakyushu, Japan; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki 2000, amongst many others.

'A small town at the turn of the century' 1999-2000 is a series of 39 type C photographs taken by Gill in the town the artist grew up in. The documentation of the people and place of ones past could be highly nostalgic. Added to this is the moment at which Gill chose to document - the turn of the 20th into the 21st century. Such references to time and memory, the past and the present are potent but Gill has covered each of her subjects' heads with tropical fruit. Rather than being absurd or ironical the head coverings move the images away from being portraits and into the broader realm of context. The context however is not necessarily as revealing as the viewer might wish. There are numerous variations on dress, interiors, exteriors, pose, and accoutrements that suggest activities (whether work or play). While it is usually clear that the environment is tropical (because of the fruit and foliage) the images provoke a complex set of reactions to the possible messages. Faceless, Gill's subjects are ciphers constructed by external objects, presented with affection.

Gill works across photography, text and installation. Her photographic practice is burgeoning and clearly a very important part of her work. This series is the 4th major body of photography which she has produced in recent years. Gill's photographic work sits to some extent with that of Tracey Moffatt, Destiny Deacon, and Anne Ferran because of her interest in memory, as well as relating to her installations in concept and content.




Media category


Materials used

type C photograph




92.0 x 91.5 cm image; 108.5 cm x 107.3 cm frame


Purchased with funds provided by Luca and Anita Belgiorno-Nettis, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, Nick Peters and the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Simryn Gill

Works in the collection


Referenced in 4 publications


John Barrett-Lennard (Editor), A small town at the turn of the century, Perth, 2001.

Lilian Chee, Here art grows on trees: Simryn Gill, 'Picturing the Tropics Within', pg. 137-162, Sydney, 2013, 150, 168.

Ewen McDonald (Editor), 2002 Biennale of Sydney: (The World May Be) Fantastic, Sydney, 2002. no catalogue numbers

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Questions and more questions: an artist who sees her work as thinking aloud', pg.22-25, Sydney, Jul 2002, 22 (colour illus.), 25.