Design & Style


Four must-see Australian female artists at the NGV Triennial.

12 February 2021

The NGV’s second Triennial features more than 100 creators from 33 countries, including a particularly strong showing from some of our most exciting female artists.

Design & Style


Four must-see Australian female artists at the NGV Triennial.

12 February 2021

The NGV’s second Triennial features more than 100 creators from 33 countries, including a particularly strong showing from some of our most exciting female artists.

In 2017, the National Gallery of Victoria introduced the Triennial as a way to celebrate the world’s most exciting art and artists.

The expansive showcase, presented every three years, ventures to provide a snapshot of a moment in time. Through a broad offering of kaleidoscopic visual conversations, we’re invited to examine timely subjects through multiple experiences and identities.

In the wake of 2020, artists and observers are hardly short on issues to unpack. With more than 100 creators from 32 countries responding to one of the most uncertain periods in modern history, the NGV’s second Triennial is a celebration of global eclecticism and unity. Of course, the exhibition includes a selection of homegrown talent and a particularly strong showing from female artists. Here, we take a look at four must-see works from Australian female artists in this year’s NGV Triennial.

‘Studio Series’, Atong Atem

Atong Atem

Atong Atem’s photos are interested in the stories of migrants — in particular, the African diaspora. Image: Atong Atem. 

Moving between photography and video, Atong Atem’s photos are interested in the stories of migrants — in particular, the African diaspora. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Atem moved to Australia as a child and largely uses her own friends and family as subjects. She combines this sense of the familiar with a dexterous ability to skewer the history of photography at large as she borrows and reimagines the staged studio aesthetic of another age. In her hands, these classic portrait setups are not stagnant or muted frames. They’re lit with flowers, colours and textures to appear personal and intimate, staged and considered. 

‘EYE HEAR U MAGIK 2020’, Hannah Brontë

Installation view of Hannah Brontë’s EYE HEAR U MAGIK 2020 on display.

Installation view of Hannah Brontë’s EYE HEAR U MAGIK 2020 on display in NGV Triennial 2020 from 19 December 2020–18 April 2021 at NGV International, Melbourne © Hannah Brontë. Image: Tom Ross.

Hannah Brontë’s large-scale video art explores the role and influence of Indigenous and Blak women in relation to activism, power, and family. She approaches these subjects with the unique perspective of having worked as an artist, DJ, and doula. Her pieces reflect these experiences by combining video, music, and spoken word to tangle with questions of what exists before and after us. Brontë is especially attentive to ancestral intuition and connection — or, as she refers to it, “the knowing”, “the cunning,” and “illpunja”. The resulting work is engulfing as it manages to consider history while gazing forward to the future.

Installation view of Hannah Brontë’s EYE HEAR U MAGIK 2020 on display.

Installation view of Hannah Brontë’s EYE HEAR U MAGIK 2020 on display in NGV Triennial 2020 from 19 December 2020–18 April 2021 at NGV International, Melbourne © Hannah Brontë. Image: Tom Ross.

Can we all have a happy life’, Dhambit Munuŋgurr

With the title of her immersive installation, Dhambit Munuŋgurr asks a question that is at once straightforward and devastatingly complex. She also hints at the heritage and challenges behind the 15 bark paintings and nine larrakitj (hollow poles) that form the work. In 2005, Munuŋgurr was involved in a serious car accident that left her using a wheelchair. The event also presented obstacles that extended beyond physical pain. Can we all have a happy life was created at Buku- Larrŋgay Mulka: a Yolŋu-owned art centre in the small Aboriginal community of Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land. Historically, artists working in this area use materials sourced from the natural environment, such as ochres pigments and stringybark. The mediums lend their output a rich palette of warm reds and browns.

Installation view of Dhambit Mununggurr’s installation Can we all have a happy life 2019–20.

Installation view of Dhambit Mununggurr’s installation Can we all have a happy life 2019–20 on display in NGV Triennial 2020 from 19 December 2020 – 18 April 2021 at NGV International, Melbourne © Dhambit Munuŋgurr, courtesy Salon Indigenous Art Projects, Darwin. Image: Sean Fennessy.

Following the accident, Munuŋgurr was no longer able to take part in the physically challenging process of preparing natural pigments and canvases. To accommodate this, Munuŋgurr was given special permission to use acrylic paint, opening up an alternative range of colour to explore. She embraced the colour blue, becoming the first artist at Buku to do so. Despite the use of acrylics, Munuŋgurr remains in dialogue with nature. As she points out, “The earth is blue, the sea is blue, and the sky is blue”.

‘Unprecedented’, Megan Cope

Megan Cope’s text-based work Unprecedented invites the viewer to reconsider a word that has become increasingly familiar over the past year as we process events and traumas that feel totally new and world-altering. Cope’s piece is aesthetically a mix of times and places: the word is presented in old English script; composed of ochre, burnt Bundjalung country (charcoal), and glow mineral illuminated by black light. The collision of perceptions extends beyond materials, too.

Installation view of Megan Cope’s work Unprecedented 2020

Installation view of Megan Cope’s work Unprecedented 2020 on display in NGV Triennial from 19 December 2020 – 18 April 2021 at NGV International, Melbourne© Megan Cope. Image: Tom Ross.

Specifically Cope, a Qunadamooka woman, takes issue with how the word “unprecedented” is  employed to signal what has been “never known or done before”. She asks the observer to reflect on how we continue to use the phrase today: too often engaging in a delusion that the “unprecedented” social, political, and environmental traumas of 2020 aren’t deeply rooted in past events. The challenges of the 21st century aren’t “unprecedented”, she argues, they’re totally familiar. Having been repeated again and again for decades.

The NGV Triennial runs until 18 April 2021 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Visit ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/triennial-2020. Mercedes-Benz is proud to be a Principal Partner of the NGV Triennial 2020.

By Wendy Syfret