William Yang: Seeing and being seen


William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen’ spans Queensland-born photographer and performance artist William Yang’s five-decade career and is the first major survey of his work to be presented by an Australian state gallery. ‘Seeing and Being Seen’ refers to the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens.

Yang captures people across all walks of life including celebrity artists alongside photographic explorations that throw light onto subcultures and marginalised groups, and he does not turn away from unsettling narratives or uncomfortable truths.

William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Golden Summer 1987/2016 / Inkjet print, gold leaf on Innova Softex paper / 40 x 30 cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from Cora Trevarthen and Andrew Reeves through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

This major exhibition encompasses every aspect of Yang’s practice and highlights his life-long fascination with people and storytelling. Yang is a noted writer, performer and visual artist with an international profile and this exhibition is an important survey of his work, celebrating inclusivity and diversity.

The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape. 

William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Cate Blanchett. The Star in Her Dressing Room. After Hedda Gabler. Wharf Theatre, Sydney 2004 / Digital print / Courtesy: The artist / © William Yang
William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party 1989 / Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast / 40 x 28cm / Courtesy: The artist / © William Yang
William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart 1980 / Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast / 27 x 40cm / Courtesy: The artist / © William Yang

‘Seeing and Being Seen’ also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity, Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to Yang’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable. There is confession and courage in his storytelling — his most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.

DELVE DEEPER: William Yang: Personal Stories

William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Alter ego 2001 / Digital inkjet print on rag paper / 68 x 88cm / Courtesy: The artist / © William Yang

Born in North Queensland in 1943, Yang grew up with little knowledge of his Chinese heritage. Even though his parents were second-generation Chinese-Australian, Cantonese was not spoken at home. After coming to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture at the University of Queensland, he moved to Sydney in 1969, and has lived and worked there ever since.

William Yang, Australia b.1943 / Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah 2016 / Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag / 50 x 150cm / Courtesy: The artist / © William Yang

Buy the publication

The accompanying publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen explores the artist’s prolific practice. The 220-page hardcover monograph features reproductions of over 200 photographs, tracing Yang’s career from his heady early days as a social photographer in the 1970s documenting Sydney’s queer scene, family ties, sexual and cultural identity, and the Australian landscape. It also examines his deep connections to Queensland. / RRP $49.95 / Special limited edition with signed print $300.00 / Available from the QAGOMA Store and online / Limited edition

Limited edition with signed print

The special limited edition publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen with signed print


 The accompanying publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen

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‘William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen’ is in Gallery 4, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), from 27 March to 22 August 2021.

Featured image detail: William Yang Tamarama Lifesavers 1981

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  1. Is William Yang going to be part of any of these events or are they all pre-filmed?

  2. Hi Liz. William is only in Brisbane for the opening weekend events, however Benjamin Laws will be speaking with William at the closing events. Regards QAGOMA