Fiona Tan


Directors Aileen Burns and Johan Lundt add an antipodean twist to their global focus at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art, selecting Willem de Rooij and Fiona Tan to kick off the 2017 exhibition program. They promise “a year of both playful aesthetic adventures that push the limits of art, and careful critiques of the challenges facing us in these uncertain times”.

It is the first solo exhibition for de Rooij in the Asia-Pacific region. Tan’s Nellie, 2013, points up the interests she shares with de Rooij in colonialism, trade and the historic connections between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Tan was born in Indonesia (in 1966), grew up in Australia and currently lives in the Netherlands, from where she has built a strong international career.

Nellie is a film installation that examines the largely forgotten illegitimate daughter of 17th-century painter Rembrandt.

Nellie (Cornelia van Rijn) emigrated to Jakarta (Batavia) from the Netherlands at the age of 15. Photographed in a luxurious historic house, and in elaborate period dress, Nellie becomes a strongly evocative image of a young woman. “It looks at the life of the one surviving child of Rembrandt and her journey to Indonesia [Fiona’s own place of origin]. There is a kind of mapping or similarity in her interests and the materials she uses of the colonial period,” says Burns.

Tan’s ongoing interests in history, identity, and memory are visible, yet her evocation of Indonesia also speaks to the current Australian psyche. Burns explains: “Indonesia is our close neighbour and is often portrayed with ambivalence in the media. Tan’s work draws on Indonesia’s long subjection to the European presence in the Asia-Pacific.”

Fiona Tan
Institute of Modern Art
1 April – 29 April 

Preview Words by Louise Martin-Chew