The last time the Adelaide Review caught up with Damien Shen was in 2014. He had just held his first exhibition at Artspace Gallery at the Adelaide Festival Centre, launching his career.
Two years ago, one of his goals was to see his work hanging in one of the major state galleries. This dream is soon to become a reality, as the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has acquired Shen’s photographic series On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body – Volume Two. The works will be included in a forthcoming group exhibition, Resolution: new Indigenous Photo Media, touring five states, opening at the Tweed Regional Gallery in September, and finishing at the NGA in 2018. While Shen can tick that off his to-do list, it’s not all that’s going on. He recently signed to Mars Gallery in Melbourne, and in October he is heading off to the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection and Study Centre in Virginia (USA) to undertake a month-long residency. He also currently has a body of work, The People Who Belong to this Land, on display at the Town Hall Gallery in Adelaide which coincided with the 2016 NAIDOC Week celebrations.
While some of the works on display at the Town Hall Gallery were part of the first exhibition at Artspace Gallery, there are some new additions of portraits he sketched during the exhibition. There are also a couple of lithographs and an etching. The body of work is very personal for Shen, documenting and exploring his genealogy and identity. “Drawing your family and having it received with that much enthusiasm is quite surprising,” Shen says. Having these portraits of his family hanging at the Town Hall Gallery is an honour for Shen. “I didn’t get wrapped up in the building as bricks and mortar but more what the space means to me,” he says. “It’s the space everyone gathers in before the NAIDOC morning tea and award presentation. A huge part of the community will see the works.”
Damien Shen, Self Portrait # 2 – Charcoal and pastel (70 x 50) 2014.
The prints on display came out of a printmaking workshop he did in 2015 at Cicada Press alongside Queensland artist Tony Albert. One of Shen’s first sketches – after he returned to drawing – was of One Pound Jimmy (Gwoya Jungarai – who features on the $2 coin) taken from one of Albert’s installation works he saw at the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art. When Shen found himself alongside Albert at the printmaking workshop he decided to sketch Albert in the same pose as One Pound Jimmy. “While it’s not a deeply cultural piece or anything, it’s more about serendipity,” he says. Shen believes that the key to his success has been hard work and that if he keeps working hard then more doors will open. While drawing got him on the map, Shen is a multi-disciplinary artist working with photography, printmaking and painting. Damien Shen: The People Who Belong to this Land Town Hall Gallery Until Friday, August 19