William Yang / Australia b.1943 / “Mother. Cairns, 1930’s.” Photographer unknown. (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio) 2003 / Gelatin silver photograph / 51.3 x 61.1cm / Purchased 2004. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © William Yang

William Yang
“Mother. Cairns, 1930’s.” Photographer unknown. (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio) 2003

Not Currently on Display

About my mother is a portfolio of 30 photographs on the subject of William Yang’s mother, Emma. A number of the photographs were taken by the artist and others were collected from family and friends. The images begin in the 1930s in Cairns, in far north Queensland, when Emma was a young woman, and end in the 1990s in Graceville, Brisbane, where she died.

Yang’s relationship with his mother was complex: while he felt comforted by her unconditional love, he also felt he was only able to be fully himself after her death. Yang gives us a sense of Emma as a strong and proud woman, but we also experience his struggle to grasp his mother’s ‘true essence’ in a fleeting photograph.

William Yang is a third-generation Chinese Australian whose grandparents migrated to Australia during the 1880s gold rush. He grew up at Dimbulah on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland and describes his upbringing as one in which his Chinese ethnicity was suppressed and denied.

Yang studied architecture at The University of Queensland, and in 1969 he moved to Sydney to become a playwright. He took up social photography as a way of making money and soon gained entry into the city’s theatrical and artistic circles. His photography during the 1980s and early 1990s documents the social and artistic life of Sydney.

In 1983, Yang met Yentsoon Tsai, a Chinese teacher from Taiwan. Their friendship led Yang on a quest to discover his Chinese culture and heritage. He changed his name from the anglicised ‘Young’ to ‘Yang’, and he began researching his family history.

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