SCA joins Sydney in celebrating contemporary art

Lionel Bawdon

Lionel Bawden, Fantasy Disorder (Isle of the little death), 2013. Single bed mattress, foam, polyurethane, resin, acrylic paint, wood, lichen, epoxy. Work appears courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery Melbourne

As contemporary art moves into the Sydney spotlight this month when two major art festivals Art Month and the Biennale are staged, the University of Sydney’s art school in Rozelle will showcase its emerging artists in a suite of new exhibitions that officially open on Thursday 13 March.


Sydney College of the Arts will stage three new exhibitions: New Contemporaries showcasing thirteen postgraduate students; The Man with the Movie Camera featuring the cinematography work of James Nguyen; and José dos Santos (1904-1996), Portugal’s self-proclaimed greatest sculptor.

Nicholas Tsoutas, SCA’s Zelda Stedman Lecturer in Visual Art Practice and Curator of New Contemporaries, has hand selected SCA artists for the exhibition who are at the cutting edge of their practice and are already attracting interest around the country.

“These artists are not just producing student works. They are a group of critically informed artists who clearly understand their practice and are producing an exceptionally high standard of art.

“Almost all of the students in the show are considered more than just emerging artists in Sydney and elsewhere. They have established profiles and practices that are attracting attention from Biennales, commercial galleries and art fairs,” said Nicholas Tsoutas.

Sydney-based artist Shoufay Derz, for example, is currently showing her work, Depart without Return, in ‘Dark Heart’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia for the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. Her work has been acquired by the Gallery.

Working across a variety of media including sculpture, painting, photo media, multi-media and installations, the artists all appear to share a common interest. Their works explore new spaces beyond the real world, with many rethinking the boundaries of what society thinks of politics.

Amongst the many extraordinary artists is Cidgem Aydemir, an artist of Turkish Muslim heritage who explores the convergence of gender, religious and cultural identities.

The daughter of a tailor who comes from a fashion background, Aydemir interrogates the void between body and dress. Her work ‘Untitled’ (inspiration from victims of the Turkish headscarf ban), references the three-decade ban of the headscarf in Turkey that was partially lifted in 2011. In this installation, performance and video work, the artist’s provocative use of fabric simultaneously holds, falls, conceals, reveals, adorns and obscures the ongoing social and cultural issues surrounding Islamic dress.

Jonathan McBurnie, recognised for his Precipice series that he began in 2010, is a master of these meticulously painted ink drawings. His large-scale works create imaginary or hybrid landscapes to tease out tensions between the traditions and histories of Australia’s Indigenous and British colonies. On display in New Contemporaries is the latest addition to his series, Precipice (South of heaven), which translates the desolation of the Antarctic and the severity of the Australian outback in a kind of fractal collision.

In the second exhibition representing the SCA Graduate School, cinematography student James Nguyen’s showcases his series of seven-minute autobiographical works, The Man with the Movie Camera. Inspired by Russian Dziga Vertovs’ 1929 silent documentary film with the same name, Nguyen explores the complicity of documentation in provoking a performance. As the title implies, the person behind the camera and their creative interjections, become central to four experimental films.

The third exhibition will be displayed in the Callan Park Gallery, Australia’s only space dedicated to showing self-taught and outsider art, now in a new location integrated with the SCA Contemporary Galleries. As custodian of a unique research collection of José dos Santos’ remarkable sculptures, SCA will showcase a new selection of the artist’s work.

A self-taught artist, Dos Santos once claimed that ‘the Portuguese are the greatest sculptors in the world and I am the greatest sculptor in Portugal’. In contrast, Dos Santos’ gravestone shows a photo of the artist playing a guitar and description of him as fadista (fado singer).

José dos Santos (1904-1996) came from a small village of Arega, in the Leiria region of Portugal. For many years he was relatively unaware of the realities of modernity, ‘living in a remote part of a remote place’.

Using local woods from the Leiria region, Dos Santos transformed olive, pear and vine trees into striking sculptures of human figures, animals and musical instruments. His animal sculptures are recognisable by their exposed genitalia, in contrast to his fully-clothed human figures. This practice, Dos Santos claimed, was to avoid shocking the black-clad women of his village.

In the exhibition, the collection of colourful, caricature-style sculptures will be elevated onto a stage-like set, to depict a scene of musicians performing before an audience of slithering snakes and other mammals.

New Contemporaries, The Man with the Movie Camera (James Nguyen) and José dos Santos are open to the public at Sydney College of the Arts from 14 March until 4 April 2014.

Event details

What: New Contemporaries, The Man with the Movie Camera (James Nguyen), José dos Santos
Where: Sydney College of the Arts, Kirkbride, Balmain Road, Lilyfield
When: 14 March to 4 April 2014
Cost: Free

Media Enquiries:

Mandy Campbell
M 0481 012 742
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New Contemporaries

Featuring Cigdem Aydemir, Lionel Bawden, Ella Condon, Shoufay Derz, Stevie Fieldsend, Adrian Gebers, Harley Ives, Owen Leong, Jonathan McBurnie, Jonny Niesche, Kate Scardifield, Lachlan Warner, and Simon Yates.