2 March 2024

Canberra's centre lights up as Enlighten emblazons Australian stories across our city

| Genevieve Jacobs
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NPG illustration

A constantly evolving story is taking place across the facade of the National Portrait Gallery for Enlighten. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A bush scene unfolds along the long facade of the National Portrait Gallery. Shadowy trees emerge, the outlined figure of a child – and right there, live, the colours are drawn on the side of the Gallery through the magic of technology.

Artist Dylan Mooney is seated on one side of the building, drawing on a computer screen transmitting live on a very large canvas for Enlighten.

The Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander artist is creating a whole body of work and a cast of characters throughout the festival who each represent and personify a native plant. The show will be different every night, so returning visitors can observe a creative process unfold over almost two weeks.

Across the canvas of Canberra’s most significant buildings, brilliant evocations of Australian identity are taking place throughout Enlighten, happening from tonight for the next two weeks across the Parliamentary Triangle and city centre.

At the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, a funky return to the 1980s is unfolding: Brisbane-based artist Nordacious, aka James Hillier, is celebrating the people who worked behind the scenes at our first Federal Parliament House, from Charlie the COMCAR driver to Trish the telephonist in all her big-hair, 80s shoulder-pad glory.

Video games, Rubik’s cubes, rollerblades and leg warmers riot across the facade and inside the building. Director Stephanie Bull says MOAD is encouraging visitors to roll out their own 80s costumes, get physical with freestyle aerobics sessions and recall the America’s Cup and World Expo 88.

Linking inside and out is a growing trend at this year’s Enlighten. At the National Gallery, Archibald Prize winner Vincent Namatjira’s social commentary through portraiture looks spectacular on the exterior and in the galleries.

Namatjira paints himself (in his favourite AC/DC t-shirt) alongside Australian and global figures and next to his Tjilpa, the wise elders of his Indulkana community in the remote APY lands of outback South Australia.

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The work is pointed and direct: we are of equal value, the works say. Wisdom is held by many people in many different forms, similarly leadership, and the rich and powerful don’t have any particular inherent privilege.

Inside, the Australia in Colour exhibition (in partnership with the Art Gallery of South Australia) includes not only a wide range of the artist’s energetic, character-filled work but also a selection of watercolours from his great-grandfather, the critically acclaimed artist Albert Namatjira.

Outside the works come to life: a projection and sound-based animated work titled Indigenous All Stars features everyone from great historical and political leaders Eddie Koiki Mabo to Vincent Lingiari (depicted with Gough Whitlam pouring earth into his hands), Adam Goodes, Cathy Freeman and Nicky Winmar.

“I’m looking forward to a bright, hopeful future for our people”, he told the media preview last night (29 February).

“A bit over 10 years ago I started painting because I’m interested in people and power and wealth and politics. For me, portraiture is a way of putting me, myself, in someone else’s shoes and sharing with the viewer what it might be like in my shoes.

“I use portraiture to look at my identity and family history. It’s also a way to look at the history of this country and ask who has the power and why. Let me take you to a country where the past and present meet, where cheeky humour sits side by side with gut-wrenching, hard stories. This is Australia in Colour“.

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There’s much more to see at Questacon, the Library, Parliament House and across the Parliamentary Triangle as Canberra’s balmy March nights invite exploration and innovation.

In the city, Before Us brings T-Rex and friends to reign supreme over Civic Square, open daily from 1 March to 11 March from 5 pm to 11 pm.

Coming soon, there’s Symphony in the Park, the inaugural Canberra Day fund run, the Balloon Spectacular and, of course, the Hands Across Canberra annual appeal to give where you live and keep our community strong.

A free Shuttle Bus will run on a 30-minute Enlighten loop every day from 1 to 11 March, stopping at Constitution Ave opposite the Convention Centre, London Circuit (Legislative Assembly/Theatre), East Row/Mort Street (Interchange), Ainslie Ave (Canberra Centre main entrance), Parkes Place East/ King Edward Terrace (Enlighten Entry) and return.

The first service departs at Constitution Avenue opposite the Convention Centre at 5 pm, and the last service departs at Parkes Place East and King Edward Terrace Stop at 11:20 pm, terminating at Constitution Avenue opposite the Convention Centre at 11:25 pm.

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