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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Birth and death,



Lindy Lee


1954 -


Lindy Lee (1954- ) is a senior Sydney based artist associated with appropriation practices of the 1980s and early 1990s. Lee's works from this period comprised of grid ded photocopied details from old master portraits, overlaid with veils of paint and sometimes splattered with ink and wax. They considered our cultural distance from European 'masterpieces' as well as the aura of an original and our experience of it through ubiquitous reproductive technologies.

From the mid-1990s onward Lee's questioning of cultural authenticity became a personal frame of reference for exploring notions of identity, displacement, transition and spirituality. The artist began to draw on her post-revolutionary Chinese heritage/ post-war Australian upbringing, explaining 'in addition to being falsely European, I came to realise I've been a false copy of a Chinese person...I felt like a white Australian although I didn't look like one; whereas at a Chinese club with my family, for instance, I looked like everyone there but didn't feel like them' (Lee quoted in Australian Art Collector, no 26, October/December 2003, p 57).

Lee's large-scale installation 'Birth and death' 2003 comprises of around 100 concertinaed Chinese accordion books extended on the floor in rows. Chinese accordion books are a traditional writing material used in Buddhist scripture that evoke multiple references in 'Birth and death' 2003. Firstly, to the instrument, which was spruiked by the People's Liberation Army as a form of entertainment during the 1940s. And secondly, to the photo album or even the passport, with each one unfolding to depict multiple portraits of living and deceased family members, friends, and even pets, at various stages throughout their life.

These images have been produced from copying photographs, and as such they exist in various degrees of light and dark, almost to the point of abstraction. The overlaying monochromatic red is emblematic of Imperial China and the Cultural Revolution.

The fading in and out crowd of portraits in 'Birth and death' 2003 links history, people and memory together across time and space in pondering, through the minimalist language of seriality and the artist's understanding of Buddhist cosmology, the impermanence and interconnectedness of life.


Other Title

Birth & death



Materials used

synthetic polymer paint, inkjet print on Chinese accordion books


dimensions variable

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of the artist 2014. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Lindy Lee

Works in the collection


Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Campbelltown Arts Centre (Editor), Sunshine state smart state: Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Fiona Foley, Lindy Lee, Tracey Moffatt, Ken Thaiday, Thanakupi, Judy Watson, William Yang, 'Artist pages: Lindy lee', pg. 25-27, Campbelltown, 25, 26 (colour illus.), 49.

Michele Helmrich, Lindy Lee: the dark of absolute freedom, 'From darkness to light: pathos and reverie in the work of Lindy Lee', pg. 15-44, Brisbane, 2014, 25, 86, 87-90 (colour illus.), 91, 140.

Andrew Jaspan (Editor in Chief),, 'Photo of wife wins national portrait prize', Melbourne, 06 Dec 2007, n.pag. (colour illus.). photograph taken by Lee's husband Rob Scott-Mitchell of the artist meditating in the middle of the installation.

Martha Langford, Image and imagination, 'Emanations: Susan Butler, Lindy Lee and Arthur Renwick', pg. 195-200, Montreal, 2005, 195, 196, 197 (colour illus.).

Heidrun Lohr, Australian art collector, 'The many faces of Lindy Lee', pg. 54-57, Sydney, Oct 2003-Dec 2003, 57.

John Saxby (Editor), Look, 'Zen and the art of flinging bronze', pg. 8, Sydney, Aug 2015, 8.