Tracey Moffatt / Australia/United States b.1960 / Night spirits no.4 ‘Nunnery in yellow, youth in blue, desert in red’ (from ‘Night spirits’ series within the ‘Spirit landscapes’ series) 2013 / Digital prints mounted behind acrylic, ed. of 8 / Gift of Dr Paul Eliadis through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2014. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tracey Moffatt / Courtesy: Roslyn Oxley 2016

Tracey Moffatt
Night spirits no.4 ‘Nunnery in yellow, youth in blue, desert in red’ (from ‘Night spirits’ series within the ‘Spirit landscapes’ series) 2013

Not Currently on Display

Tracey Moffatt moved back to Australia in 2010 after spending 12 years in New York. Her luminous ‘Night spirits’ series of landscapes, of which this is one, were shot along lonely stretches of highway in outback Queensland. In the dark, Moffatt would stop the car and slowly set up her camera while the small hairs rose on the back of her neck and fear sharpened her senses.

Europe’s relentless drive for resources and wealth resulted in countless examples of dispossession, slavery and genocide, and this violent past — as might be expected — echoes through to the present, as psychological distress and also as social, cultural, and economic inequity. Moffatt’s intense, luminous images of country show strange things lingering in the air around her, like the residue of untold lives lost.

Tracey Moffatt was born in 1960 and grew up in Brisbane. After graduating from the Queensland College of Art, where she studied film and video production, she moved to Sydney in 1983 and worked as an independent filmmaker and photographer. As artist in residence at the Albury Regional Art Centre in 1989, she produced her critically acclaimed ‘Something more’ series.

Moffatt gained critical acclaim for her short film Night cries: A rural tragedy, which competed in the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. Moffatt’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions, including QAGOMA’s ‘Tracey Moffatt: Spirited’ in 2014, which showcased the ‘Night spirits’ series, and major group exhibitions such as the São Paulo Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 1997, and the Sydney Biennale in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

Moffatt refuses to be categorised as an ‘Aboriginal’ artist, finding the term stereotypical and politicised. However, several of her works have been concerned with issues especially affecting Indigenous Australians such as poverty, displacement and racism. She represented Australia at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.


1Ewington, Julie. ‘Tracey Moffatt: Plantation’, in ‘The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’. Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2009, p.140, col. ills p.26 (stills).

Discussion Questions

1. When and where do you think this photograph was taken?

2. How might this scene be seen as universal rather than specifically Australian? Could it represent people and places from around the world?

Classroom Activities

1. From a window, examine your street at night and the shadows you can see. Use the shape of the shadows in a drawing.

2. Research and explore the imagery in Moffatt’s ‘Night spirits’ series to explain how they relate to colonialism.

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