William Yang Exhibition: Claiming Heritage

Music Performance

The Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University is honoured and privileged to present William Yang’s solo exhibition Claiming Heritage.

The exhibition opening was held on Thursday 9 March 2023.

Exhibition Details

From 20 February to 12 May 2023

Venue: Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture Gallery, Ground Floor, Building EA, Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University. 171 Victoria Road, Rydalmere.

Gallery Opening Hours: Monday – Friday (9.30 am – 5.00 pm)

Contact: Yanni Liu at (02) 9685 9943, email: y.liu9@westernsydney.edu.au

About the Artist

William Yang is one of Australia’s most celebrated photographers and internationally renowned performance artists. His five decades of extraordinary works make him an iconic chronicler of our time. His art is both intensely personal and universally relatable. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Queensland, William moved from Brisbane to Sydney in 1969 and worked as a freelance photographer documenting Sydney’s social life, offering a unique view into the glamourous, celebrity set, subcultures, marginalised groups and gay community. From early on, he adopted the tradition of photographic documentary known as photojournalism. His first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphiles, caused a sensation because of its frank depiction of the Sydney gay scene. He has since held over twenty individual exhibitions across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, the latest being the major retrospective show, Seeing and Being Seen (2021) at QAGOMA in Brisbane.

William was born as William Young on the Atherton Tableland in north Queensland to Australian-Chinese parents. His grandparents migrated from Guangdong, China to Northern Australia in the 1880s. William was brought up as an assimilated Australian with little knowledge of his Chinese heritage, because under the White Australia policy, his mother believed that, in William’s words, “being Chinese was a complete liability” and wanted William and his siblings “to be more Australian than the Australians”. It was not until his mid-thirties and through his engagement of Chinese philosophy, Taoism, that William began to explore and embrace his Chinese heritage. In 1983, William changed his name to William Yang. He made his first trip to China in 1989 and has since been back to China many times.

In 1989 William Yang integrated his skills as a writer and a visual artist and he began to perform monologues with slide projections in the theatre. His performances tell personal stories and explore issues that touch all human beings such as identity, grief, death, family, friendship, home, and so on. He has done twelve full-length performances, many of which have toured the world. These slide shows were recognised as a unique form of performance theatre and have since become his favourite way of presenting his work and a signature part of his practice. His famed monologue performances include Sadness, Friends of Dorothy, The North, Blood Links, China and Shadows. He has converted three of his theatre performances into film and these have been broadcast on ABC1. The film Sadness, directed by Tony Ayres, has received a string of awards. It was broadcast on SBS and screened internationally.

William Yang has received many awards throughout his artistic career. In 1989, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Queensland. He has been recognised as Rainbow Champion by Sydney WorldPride, one of the 45 Rainbow Champions, representing 45 years since the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on 24 June 1978. He has also recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sydney Theatre Company.

William Yang’s work is held in the collections of many institutions including the National Gallery of Australia; National Library of Australia; National Portrait Gallery; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Sydney; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art; State Library of New South Wales; National Gallery of Victoria; State Library of Victoria; Art Gallery of Western Australia; Art Gallery of South Australia; University of Queensland Art Museum; Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Queensland; Higashikawa-cho Municipal Gallery, Hokkaido, Japan; and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan.

Artist Statement

I was brought up as an assimilated Chinese Australian, partly because of the way my mother brought me up, she had wanted my siblings and I to be more Australian than the Australians, but it was cultural as well, migrants or new Australians as they were called were expected to assimilate and to speak English.

I knew I was gay from a very early age, and I came out as a gay man in the early seventies, during that exciting time of change, the Gay liberation movement. It politicised me, as I had to take on all the baggage of public opinion which had a very negative view of homosexuality. Strangely I never quite realised I was Chinese until my mid-thirties. I identified as being Australian and I was in a state of denial about my Chinese heritage. In the eighties I learned Taoism, a Chinese philosophy, and this led me to embrace my Chinese heritage which hitherto had been unacknowledged. Now I see this as a liberation from racial suppression and I prefer to say I came out as a Chinese.

The last step in claiming my heritage was a trip to China in 1989. I was able to embrace China and the Chinese I met welcomed me back, but the complexities of being bicultural became apparent. I’ve been back to China many times. Now I call myself mainly Australian, and claim my Chinese heritage as part of my identity. This exhibition is about my journey to make that claim.’

William Yang

William Yang is represented by Art Atrium

Photo Gallery



Tessa Leong

Tessa Leong is a theatre director, dramaturg and collaborator who has worked extensively across theatre, performance, dance theatre, live art and socially engaged projects. She was Griffin Theatre Company’s inaugural Associate Artistic Director from 2020 until 2022 where she directed the world premieres of Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood and Kendall Feaver’s Wherever She Wanders to great critical and audience acclaim. Tessa is also a founding member of Adelaide-based theatre company isthisyours? for which she has directed Angelique by Duncan Graham and David Williamson’s The Club (An all-female, 3 actor version) as well as directed and devised #Youwannatalkaboutit, Best We Forget, and Make Me Honest Make Me Wedding Cake.

Tessa has worked with many companies nationally and internationally as director, dramaturg, researcher and assistant director, including Contemporary Asian Australian Performance, Country Arts SA, Drop Bear Theatre, Force Majeure, Ontroerend Goed, PYT Fairfield, Restless Dance, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Sydney Theatre Company, and Vitalstatistix. Since 2018, she has been on the board of directors at PACT: Centre for Emerging and Experimental Art. In 2018, she was also a recipient of the Seminaire en Avignon artist program at the renowned Avignon Festival.

In 2017, Tessa was the Associate Artist at Belvoir and in 2014 a Griffin Studio Artist. Tessa worked as the Manager, Artist and Sector Development, at Theatre Network Australia where she delivered programs for independent artists, advocated for the wider sector, curated and delivered national gatherings and represented Australia at international forums. Tessa has been selected in Australia and internationally for multiple residency and conference programs. Recent works include: It’s Not a Potluck at Lore Residency in Canada; Swimming Pool in Kandos for Cementa Festival and; The Hole at Rising Festival 2022.

Jules Pek-Lowther

Jules Pek-Lowther (voice)

Jules Pek-Lowther (They/Them) is a young non-binary performer from Sydney NSW. They are an active member of Marian Street Theatre for Young people (MSTYP) and have performed in many of their productions such as Grimms Tales, Testament and Red Dust.

They are passionate about diversity and inclusion in the world of theatre, as well as the exploration of culture through performance.

Jules aspires to be a voice for queer/trans persons of colour (POC) within the acting community. They wish to share joy as a performer and communicate to young queer/trans POCs that being proud of who you are is beautiful.

Nathan Gilkes 

Nathan Gilkes (piano)

Nate Gilkes is an award winning musician and artistic director working across disciplines of theatre, music and community practice. Nate’s artistic work sits at the colliding points of music, theatre and opera, often using multi modes and artforms to convey story.

In 2019 he composed the score for the Helpmann Award winning production, Robot Song with Arena Theatre Company Best Production for Children and Young People), and while the Artistic Director at Marian St Theatre for Young People, developed new community driven works The Red Dust, Testament and Odyssey.

He is a graduate of from the Victorian College of the Arts in Directing, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Education and is currently completing a masters degree in cultural leadership at NIDA. www.nategilkes.com

Nicholas Ng 

Dr Nicholas Ng (erhu)

Dr Nicholas Ng 黄建文 is a composer, performer and Research Fellow at the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture (Western Sydney University). A former Lecturer (Australian National University) and Research Fellow (Queensland Conservatorium), he began teaching Chinese music and western harmony at Sydney Conservatorium in 2016.

On the erhu, Nicholas has toured to festivals around Australia, New Zealand, North America, Canada and Europe such as the KunstenFESTIVALdesarts (Brussels) and Sydney Festival. He has composed for The Song Company, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles.

Nicholas works closely with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah and appeared in Double Delicious with Benjamin Law. He has produced a book and various articles on Australia-China exchange. Nicholas established the ANU Chinese Classical Music Ensemble (2003) and curated the festival ENCOUNTERS: China (2010). His work has been documented on SBS Mandarin Radio, ABC Music Show, and in the ABC Compass program, Divine Rhythmswww.nicholasng.com.au