We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Picturing the old people



Genevieve Grieves


26 Mar 1976 –

Language group: Worimi, Southeast region

  • Details

    Media categories
    Time-based art , Installation
    Materials used
    five channel digital video, colour, sound
    duration: 00:12:55 min
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Genevieve Grieves 2009
    North Building, ground level, Yiribana Gallery
    Accession number
    © Genevieve Grieves

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Genevieve Grieves

    Works in the collection


  • About

    In 2004 Genevieve Grieves worked with the historical photographic collection at the State Library of Victoria to repatriate images. The collection consists predominately of images of Victorian Aboriginal people taken by non-Aboriginal, male photographers. Grieves’ role was to relocate, both physically and emotionally, the images from the ethnographic archive into family photo albums. This process saw Grieves researching both the subjects within the images and the studios they were taken in. She travelled throughout Victoria to consult with communities and to locate descendants.
    Grieves questioned the 19th-century images by photographers including John William Lindt and Charles Kerry, who, in their Melbourne and Sydney studios, staged and mass-produced representations of Aboriginal people. The images were often both physically and metaphorically constructed: painted backdrops, costumes and stage props were used to represent Aboriginal people. These images were, Grieves has said, ‘used as sort of raw data. They were seen as a source of anthropological material, when they’re so obviously constructed’.
    Decoding these contrived images was the inspiration for ‘Picturing the Old People’ 2005, a five-channel video work representing the themes – ‘desire’, ‘warriors’, ‘mourning’, ‘family’ and ‘lost children’ – that Grieves identified. Each of the five moving images re-enacts a scenario from the 19th-century photographic studio. In all but one we see the photographer directing the scene. The scenario ‘warriors’ shows two Aboriginal men brought into the studio, stripped of their European clothes, dressed in kangaroo skins and armed with boomerangs and shields, all provided by the photographer, who, engrossed in his own actions, demonstrates how to pose and act.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 7 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 5 publications

    • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2008–09, 'Collections: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art', pg. 22-25, Sydney, 2009, 24, 25.

    • John McDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Where glitz meets grunge', pg. 16-17, Sydney, 31 Jan 2009-01 Feb 2009, 17. Exhibition review for 'Half Light: Portraits from black Australia'.

    • Hetti Perkins, Look, 'Half light: A political and cultural twilight zone', pg. 16-18, Sydney, Dec 2008-Jan 2009, 18.

    • Hetti Perkins and Jonathan Jones (Editors), Half light: Portraits from black Australia, 'Genevieve Grieves', pg. 76-81, Sydney, 2008, 80-81 (colour illus.).

    • Cara Pinchbeck, Look, ‘Home: focus on the new Yiribana hang’, pg. 30-31, Sydney, Oct 2012, 30.