Damien Shen: On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body

Damien Shen, Self-Portrait #2, 2014.
September 9 – December 18, 2016

On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body is an exhibition of drawings, prints and photographs by artist Damien Shen (Ngarrindjeri, Chinese). Shen began unearthing stories of his Aboriginal ancestry after the death of his grandmother. While researching historical records, he discovered that the skeletal remains of more than 500 Ngarrindjeri people had been stolen by an Australian coroner and sent to a scientist in Scotland for the purpose of comparative anatomy. Shen has drawn portraits of both men, along with that of Boorborrowie, a Ngarriindjeri man whose remains were later repatriated to Australia. Through these works, Shen exposes this buried history and questions the acclaim given to men of science.

Believing that the removal and scientific analysis of human remains divorces the body from its spirit, Shen uses his art practice to “reintroduce the spirit.” The exhibition takes its title from an etching in which Shen has superimposed customary Ngarrindjeri body paint designs onto a figure drawn in the style of 16th century European anatomical drawings. In drawing these designs, which are also shown in the photographs of Shen being painted for the first time, the artist celebrates the unity of the spirit and body in Ngarrindjeri culture.

Shen explains, “My family has had incredible struggles but there is also the other side of the spectrum in terms of triumphs and role models.” He has drawn portraits of his role models: his mother, his grandmother, artist Tony Albert, and public figure Gwoya Jungarai, also known as “One Pound Jimmy.” These are the personal, everyday heroes that inspire Shen as an Aboriginal man.

While Shen’s portraits uncover devastating histories, they also demonstrate the resilience and dignity of Aboriginal people.

Damien Shen grew up outside of Adelaide and holds a Bachelor’s of Visual Communications in illustration from the University of South Australia and a graduate certificate in Management from the Australian Institute of Business. His work has been in over thirty exhibitions around Australia and he has won multiple accolades: the South Australian NAIDOC Artist of the Year Award (2014), the Prospect Portraiture Prize (2015) and the 64th Blake Prize for Emerging Artists (2016).

Damien Shen’s exhibition and residency are presented in partnership with Australia Council for the Arts and MARS Gallery.

Art and Country

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Untitled, 1989.
Through Spring 2017

Art and Country is a diverse selection of works on canvas, paper and eucalyptus bark drawn from the Kluge-Ruhe’s permanent collection. The exhibition explores the range of ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists develop and maintain relationships with “country,” their homeland. Many artists represent features of the landscape to communicate their ongoing connection to their ancestral land and the Dreaming. Other artists raise awareness about the dispossession of country as a result of colonization or investigate the importance of story and personal memory. Throughout the exhibition visitors are invited to reflect upon their own connections to land and place.

Yarning History Outdoor Exhibition

July 9 – September 27, 2016

Yarning History is an outdoor yarn bombing exhibition that is installed on the trees surrounding the museum at its beautiful hilltop location on Pantops mountain. “Yarning” is Australian slang for telling a story. Highlighting significant dates from 40,000 BCE to the present, this exhibition is an opportunity to learn about Indigenous art and history. A collaboration of over seventy knitters, this exhibition is timed to coincide with NAIDOC Week (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee), a national week of celebration in Australia to commemorate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Click here to see the exhibition online.

Presented in partnership with the Embassy of Australia and the Needle Lady.

Kluge-Ruhe on Grounds


On view in the lobby of the Fralin Museum of Art is an acrylic painting by David Hall Tjangala. A selection of seventeen objects, including sculpture, bark paintings and musical instruments are on display in the Fralin’s Object Study Gallery on the second floor.

Kluge-Ruhe on Loan

Through September 2016

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection loans objects from our collection to esteemed institutions around the world. Currently we have 86 artworks on loan to Musee de la Civilisation in Quebec City, Canada for an exhibition of Aboriginal art titled Lifelines, which is on view through September 5, 2016. We also have five works on loan to Harvard Art Museums for the exhibition Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, on view through September 18, 2016.