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"Banksia" 2021

Wall text

Wall text

Atong Atem 

Born 1994, Ethiopia. South Sudanese. Lives and works in Narrm/Melbourne, Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung Country. 
Pronouns: she/her


"Banksia" 2021


single-channel video, colour, sound, vinyl, 16:19


8:58 minutes

Commissioned by RISING and Illuminate Adelaide in partnership with The Neilson Foundation, Courtesy of MARS and the artist, Narrm/Melbourne.

"Hamam 5" 2021
"Photography 8" 2021
"Henna 1" 2021
"Water 1" 2021
"Reception 1"  2021

From the series ‘Banksia’

Ilford smooth pearl print, framed 


Winner, 15 Artists, 2022, City of Moreton Bay Art Collection.

In Banksia, Atong Atem retells the concealed history of the first African settlers to so-called Australia. Inspired by the African men and women who arrived on the First Fleet in 1788, Atem draws connections between their history and her own South Sudanese family’s migration to New South Wales. 

The title makes reference to the native flower and pods that were depicted in the settler cartoonist and author May Gibbs’ series Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918) as villainous characters, the ‘Bad Banksia Men.’ Gibbs’ depiction of these characters evokes racialised and fetishised qualities that continue to pervade the Anglo-Australian cultural imaginary of the wild, untamable landscape and its inhabitants. Reframing this myth, Atem depicts the lush environment, contrasting it with the neoclassical colonial architecture of the Immigration Museum in Narrm/Melbourne, and inserts the African diaspora into the frame. Atem joyously celebrates her family, friends and community as they reflect, sing, dance, and create their identity in the diaspora. Significantly, the artist opens the video work over a body of water, acknowledging the ocean as a foundational site of many migratory journeys across time, a conduit and transmitter for hers and many other stories.



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