William Yang / Australia b.1943 / “Mother. Cairns, 1930’s.” Photographer unknown. (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio) 2003 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / 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

In his ‘About my mother’ portfolio, William Yang has assembled a suite of photographs of his mother Emma. Some are his own, while others have been re-photographed from images found and collected from family albums over the years. Yang described his process of collecting the photographs as ‘partly being a researcher, like a historian in some way.’

Yang began the ‘About my mother’ series following his mother’s death. The handwritten, reflective text, similar to a spoken narrative, includes the artist’s memories, conversations and anecdotes.  The text with this image reads:

My father met my mother in Cairns and he courted her for a few years. He had a shop at Aloomba near Cairns, and in the 1930’s he moved the shop to Dimbulah – a small tobacco town on the Atherton Tableland. He started the shop and then he proposed to my mother.

“He wanted someone to help him with the shop,” my mother told me. But at another time she said that she was madly in love with my father. So I think she was in two minds here. In one, the traditional Chinese way, marriage was an economic contract, but she had been born in Australia, and had grown up seeing movies, and she allowed herself the luxury of love and romance.


1. William Yang, interview with Felix Tan, ‘”Performing His-story” – Photographer performer William Yang’, Arts Arena, Radio Singapore International, 24 July 2003, viewed 31 May 2004, <http://archive.rsi.com.sg/en/programmes/art_arena/2003/07/24_07_01.htm>

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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