Lisa Roet puts our primate relations in the spotlight


For three decades artist Lisa Roet has been challenging the idea that humans are somehow superior to other creatures by focussing on the subtle gestures and complex social behaviours of our nearest relatives, the apes.

We share more than 98% of our DNA with our simian cousins and Roet’s massive charcoal studies of primate hands (a suite of which can be seen in her solo show 30 Years of Drawing at Finkelstein Gallery in Melbourne) highlight our similarities rather than our differences.

Roet’s carefully observed sketches are intimate portraits. She depicts the hands of apes in such a way that we catch a glimpse of both the gentleness and intelligence they are capable of. In Lisa Roet’s drawings non-human animals are pictured as thinking and feeling subjects with their own internal psychology, not just as objects to be studied.

As a counterpoint to the intimacy of her drawings, Roet has in recent years also been working on large-scale public sculptures. And from 3 December, audiences in Melbourne will be treated to the spectacle of one of her huge inflatable apes outside Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre Melbourne.

Titled David Greybeard, and made in association with the Jane Goodall Institute Australia, Roet’s giant silver chimpanzee is over 12 metres high. The title refers to the moniker that Dr Goodall, a primatologist and anthropologist, gave the first chimp she was able to get really close to during her ground-breaking research in Tanzania during the 1960s.

After its Melbourne premiere, which was delayed due to Covid-19, Roet’s David Greybeard sculpture will tour internationally.

30 Years of Drawing
Lisa Roet
Finkelstein Gallery
23 September–27 January 2021
Closed on public holidays

David Greybeard
Lisa Roet in association with Jane Goodall Institute Australia
Arts Centre Melbourne
3–21 December

Preview Words by Tracey Clement