Redefining artistic borderlines

Redefining artistic borderlines


Within the borders of identity there are many lines; some drawn from the way we appear to others, others from how we see ourselves. Each of these lines create marks in thoughts and actions, influenced by past and present times and places. Similarities and differences, the depth and width of these cultural imprints on our personalities, chal­lenge each of us in the many dimensions of who we are. This is especially apparent in the north of Australia, where tensions between appearance and identity merge as a living history and daily experience of people whose heritage is extremely diverse and individual. It is obvious that the people in this place are made up of many groups from other than Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Homi Bhabha, an influential cultural theorist who considers the role of art in defining how a group of people see themselves, suggests that, “communities negotiate ‘difference’ through a borderline process that reveals the hybridity of cultural identity”. He sup­ports the notion that people create a sense of themselves to and through an idea that there is a group ‘other’ to themselves. How­ever, he argues that this is not a static pro­cess and that there is a ‘third space’ wherein groups that once were the ‘other’ in a he­gemonic view of a culture, stand strongly together to project a more accurate view of self on equal grounding (Bhabha 1995, p. 16). Categories such as race have been used in the past to position individuals in a low or high level of social hierarchy as each age and society re-creates its ‘others’ (Said 1979, p. 332). It is equally apparent that this changes and members of ’other’ groups more recent­ly use these same categories as places of em­powerment through the idea of difference.

Balancing the multiple layers of identity with her extensive skill as a visual artist and printmaker, Glynis Lee pushes the borders of a search for identity in the ‘third space’ into new dimensions. Her installation ex­plores the tension between diverse cultural characteristics, focusing on her heritage as an Australian born Chinese who are often self-referred to as ‘ABC’. Her ancestors first started to move between China and Australia in the 1880s and she represents the journeys that have ensued between two continents over generations. Born and raised in Innisfail, Glynis has lived in Darwin since 1994, com­pleting her undergraduate studies in visual arts with first class honours in 2007, her ex­tensive skill as a printmaker is recognized in the multiple works she has produced inde­pendently and helped to produce at North­ern Editions (a print studio located at Charles Darwin University) for over 7 years. In this exhibition, Glynis Lee has extended her prac­tice from printmaking to incorporate video, sculpture and textured works on paper. She brings the lines of the past into the present, using printmaking in traditional and new, in­novative ways.


For Glynis Lee, art is a visible expression of culture, felt deeply, reflecting inner thoughts and spirituality. Material culture supports no­tions of identity, the things that are touched and passed among people who share a lan­guage and a writing form to reinforce the sense of togetherness and solidify a reality joined in appearances. To describe a little of the process of creation, Glynis described an inspirational moment for her ‘bowl installa­tion’. When visiting Pine Creek, where her paternal great grandfather had searched for gold in the 1870s, she related how she found some broken shards, blue and white Chinese pottery, scattered amongst the red clay and sticks of the savanna. Drawing on this bro­kenness with a high level of sensitivity, she returned to her studio to carefully mould bowls made of finely stranded silk paper. These delicate sculptural forms are printed in symbolic colours, some of China blue, oth­ers of Australian ochres, highlighting the fra­gility and transparency of physical identity in place. They sway on modern material, clear acrylic, moving through the air as if reflecting the many journeys that members of her fam­ily have made between Australia and China for over a hundred and fifty years. They are also symbolic of Glynis’ own efforts to return to her Chinese heritage and learn the Man­darin language. The importance of language and its power in communication and atti­tudes towards belonging runs through her work.


Lee explains her integrated approach to her art practice. “Incorporating both Western and Chinese forms of traditional printmaking and painting, as well as contemporary sculp­tural forms and audio-visual production, I merged aspects from the two cultures into individual works.“ The correspondence in the theme of balance in form is apparent in a variety of modes of expression. Long drift­ing scrolls as Territory Meditations (2010-11) are printed in lithograph, drypoint and etch­ing. These integrate calligraphy and land­scapes drawn from photographs taken in the Northern Territory, and cohabit the space with more formal framed screen prints of an ancestral home in Macau in Rue de San Roque (2011). At first, there appears to be a sameness in the prints, but on closer view­ing, there are subtle differences in each em­bossed paper.


The CBA-ABC III (2013), series of screen print and watercolour on Xuan paper scrolls, high­light the personal connection and the his­toric stereotyping of ABC people in Australia, challenging the unsubtle notions of differ­ence that existed with the White Australia policy in the past. As a sharp contrast to this brightly coloured confrontational newspaper text and family photographs, the Territory Meditations (2010-11) series considers the landscape on which social differences settled in the dust, and moulded a new perspective on culture, language and life for ABCs in the north of Australia.

Not content to explore printmaking as a mode of expression into two and three di­mensional objects, Glynis moved into pro­ducing audio-visual media to explore other ABC people’s ideas about being Australian or Chinese. Her recordings of experiences of being an ABC are brought together with video art interpretations of her print work about ABC identity and are projected onto the same hand-made silk paper that she used to create the transparent bowls.


The search to express the empowerment of the hybridised ‘third space’ for Austral­ian Born Chinese (ABC) as an artistic expres­sion extends previous exporations of this topic. Works by Lindy Lee (2003), Greg Leong (2005) and Pamela Mei-Leng See (2004) as ABC artists who have addressed this experi­ence in different ways using a variety of me­diums, are referenced in Glynis Lee’s work. She has interpreted this to provide a nuanced understanding of the shift that has come in a particular time and location, stimulating fur­ther conversation and critique of the identity of the ‘other’ in Australia, particularly in the north.


All the mediums she has used resonate in dif­ferent ways to situate the viewer, asking one to question one’s own perception of identity defined by appearance and place. Glynis Lee has stretched the boundaries of represen­tation of the reality for ABCs in the north of Australia and these series of works add another subtle layer to the cultural dimen­sions of a northern identity. Added to this is a sense that in viewing these sensitively and skilfully produced artefacts, one must ques­tion the similarities and differences of iden­tity for people in all cultural groups.



Dr Birut Zemits




Bhabha, HK 1993, ‘Culture’s in between’, Artforum International, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 167(4).

Lee. L 2003, Birth and Death (installation) Accordion books made from inkjet print on paper mounted on wood
, Variable dimensions

Mei-Leng See, P 2004, A Change in Frequency Paper-cut moth installation

Leong, GKK 2005, The Sojourners Installaion in Mindil Beach, Darwin

Said, EW 1979, Orientalism, 2004 edn, Vintage Books, New York.