South Australian artist, Damien Shen descends from Ngarrindjeri and Chinese bloodlines. His artistic practice is embedded in histories; revisiting the people, places and stories that shape the world he occupies. Through this body of work, a collaborative series with photographer Richard Lyons, Shen draws on this rich cultural heritage to create works of cultural and personal meaning.
Shen acquired knowledge of traditional Ngarrindjeri body designs from his uncle, Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy (Major Sumner). The photographic documentation of this event has great significance for the wider community’s understanding of Ngarrindjeri culture; time has elapsed since the body painting shown here had been practiced, but the revival will ensure that is will remain and continue to be passed down future generations.
Shen’s series includes images of Uncle Moogy being painted and then of himself and his uncle adopting a series of performative poses in a photographic studio. Shen noted that ‘This was the first time that I personally had been painted up in the Ngarrindjeri way… I felt empowered through this process of learning and spending time with my elder’.
For Shen, these images together show ‘the continued fight to keep our culture alive within the complexities of two conflicting worlds’ and indicate some of the broad range of uses photography serves for contemporary Indigenous artists.