Sydney Festival: In Our Time

Jackie McMillan
19th Jan 2024

Porn and propaganda are the key themes emerging from In Our Time: Four decades of art from China and beyond, an exhibition which launched last night at the National Art School’s gallery. Part of Sydney Festival, this free, two-storey exhibition explores some of the Geoff Raby collection, curated from 175 artworks donated to La Trobe University by the former diplomat and economist. Dr Raby AO was also the Australian Ambassador to China. The defining feeling as you explore this selection of works is a wish that the walls could talk about how these particular works came into Dr Raby’s possession. 

The intersection of sex and sexuality with power and politics is always interesting. The birth of Venus (2008) by Ling Jian captures both in a single painting that also speaks of the relationship between Eastern and Western cultures. Lu Peng’s Legend 4 (2005) has a benign wall label which waxes lyrical about a chaotic narrative scene “of contorted figures with their legs flung into the air.” However the setting will be instantly recognisable to anyone with sex industry experience. Likewise the trio of ink on paper works by Li Jin, kicking off with Sex is nothing, nothingness is sex (2006), seem to capture the power relationship between client and worker: carnal desire tinged with a shade of melancholy. Rose Wong also explores the power of femininity with Cut into (2016), a hand grenade sculpture that opens to reveal oozing ripe fruit.  

There’s a lot to see and a wide range of artists, but do keep your eyes peeled for Lauren Tan’s fibreglass steel and wood sculpture, Beng beng (the depth of ease) (2007); Chen Man’s vibrant portrait of socialite Wen Bao Bao on a bike ride past the Forbidden City, Ms Wan studies hard (2011); and the haunting series of artist An Kun’s pretty friends Yan (2011), Shushu (2010) and Naonao (2011). 

In Our Time runs at the National Art School Gallery until 30 March.