“I think the exciting thing for me is always learning, always questioning.”
Presented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Daniel Boyd: Treasure Island is the Sydney-based artist’s first large-scale survey at one of Australia’s state museums. Bringing together over eighty works, the exhibition is curated by Erin Vink, curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, and Isobel Parker Philip, senior curator of contemporary Australian art.
A Kudjala, Gangalu, Wangerriburra, Wakka Wakka, Gubbi Gubbi, Kuku Yalanji, and Bundjalung man with ni-Vanuatu heritage, central to Boyd’s theoretical framework and medium methodology, reveals his lived experiences as a First Nations artist. The artworks bring balance to historical narratives through his ancestral lineage plus investigations into philosophy and colonialism.
With a career spanning twenty years, Boyd’s trajectory began with a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Australian National University’s School of Art & Design, Canberra, in 2002. Here he discovered artists challenging the European pedagogy. Artists such as Gordon Bennett, Fiona Foley, and Destiny Deacon inspired him to explore art as an open language that provides a shift from the Western narrative.
Daniel Boyd: Treasure Island features works from Boyd’s first series from 2005, the No Beard series, exhibited in his final year of studies. The works appropriate colonial portraits filled with iconography; Boyd shifts the dominant colonial narrative, reframing them as thieves and pirates and exposing the ongoing brutality to Aboriginal people.
These themes continue throughout the exhibition, curated non-chronologically, moving back and forth through time and space to understand how the fragment or idea can have associations across multiple contexts. “Ideas are complex, and I was trying to show people the complexity in the human experience; they don’t just exist as static objects. They continue to gather associations and become more and more complex,” Boyd shares.
Featuring a mixture of paintings, drawings, and installations, Boyd’s artworks reveal that mediums inform particular contexts. “My first passion was drawing, and then it became painting. I think the exciting thing for me is always learning, always questioning. I think . . . all these different ways of making content keep it exciting,” he adds, “and keep people guessing.”
The exhibition is marked by an immersive, site-specific installation that situates the audience into Boyd’s language. “It connects the [audience] to this idea of perception and relationship to different ways of seeing,” shares the artist. “It will give the audience an opportunity to see themselves within the context of place and the landscape.”
Constructed from reflective aluminium panels covered in a field of apertures, the artwork engages Boyd’s “intervention” into the act of seeing based on philosophical theories, including Gestalt theory, the allegory of Plato’s cave, dark matter, and Martinique-born poet and scholar Édouard Glissant’s notion of the “right to opacity.”
Notions of erasure within Australia’s colonial past and histories continue in the second room of the exhibition, containing the No Beard series as well as newer works that expose colonialism. In the final room, Daniel Boyd: Treasure Island turns to the artist’s own experiences of place and identity, his Aboriginal and Vanuatu lineage, and cultural survival, while also unpacking links between transglobal histories and unacknowledged pasts of slavery in the Caribbean and Australia.
As Daniel Boyd: Treasure Island explores a myriad of thoughts and ideas seen in Boyd’s career, fundamentally, it returns to the audience’s experience. One, that in the colonial structure sitting on unceded land using archival imagery, art historical references and his own family photographs, asks the viewer to question and observe the dominant perspectives around them.
Emma-Kate Wilson is a Sydney-based arts writer.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
4 June 2022 to January 2023