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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Warra Warra Wai



Joan Ross

Australia, Scotland

1961 -


Joan Ross is a Sydney-based multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes video, virtual reality, installation, drawing and digital printmaking. Her work quotes colonial, scientific and art-historical references, re-working them with the addition or removal of visual elements to create new meaning. A signature feature of Ross’ work is her use of fluorescent ‘hi-vis’ yellow, a colour with associations of surveillance, authority and danger. Using humour and the absurd, she takes a critical look at Australia’s colonial past and contemporary Australian commodity culture.
Warra Warra Wai 2019 relates to an artwork - We have sung the same songs for millions of years - commissioned by the AGNSW for the hoarding surrounding the Sydney Modern building site, erected in late 2019. Both works pay homage to the longevity of the planet while recognising our human connections to place. This imaginative view of Sydney Harbour is not topographically accurate but quotes drawings and prints of the harbour made by colonial-era artist Joseph Lycett, including a watercolour in the AGNSW collection (View of the Heads, at the entrance into Port Jackson c 1822).
The land and its animals speak to us in English and Indigenous language. The birds – carriers of knowledge – represent both the endurance of Indigenous culture and the ancient history of Australia’s endemic plants and animals. Indigenous figures share the space with settlers in Regency dress, including a naturalist, signifying the Enlightenment urge to collect, classify and name nature. The ‘hi-vis’ fluorescent yellow colour symbolises authority and control and is a metaphor for colonisation. Elements from contemporary life, including the party decorations and cakes, construction cranes and warning signs inject an element of sardonic humour into an epic tale of longevity and change.




Media category


Materials used

hand-painted pigment print on three sheets


edition 4 of 8 + 2 artist’s proofs


98.0 x 324.0 cm :

a - panel 1, 98 x 108 cm

b - panel 2, 98 x 108 cm

c - panel 3, 98 x 108 cm


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2019


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Joan Ross

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history