A person sits on a chair in a orange robes with fruit obstructing their face, surrounded by plants in front of a giant ship

Simryn Gill
A Small Town at the Turn of the Century 1999–2000 (detail)
40 photographs, C-print on paper 

Residents of the artist’s hometown in Malaysia are depicted with their faces hidden by tropical fruit in a playful but critical exploration of ‘the exotic’. 

The works in this room are from the series A Small Town at the Turn of the Century made between 1999 and 2000 by Simryn Gill. The photographs portray local people in Port Dickson, a small coastal town in Malaysia where the artist grew up. The subjects’ poses suggest work or leisure activities, but with an absurd twist: headdresses made of locally grown fruits cover their faces.

Challenging stereotypes

These surreal combinations invoke the links between humankind and the plant world, and more broadly the relationship between culture and nature. At the same time, Gill’s photographs show how identities are imposed upon people through their visual appearance and setting. From a post-colonial perspective they might bring to mind nineteenth-century botanic and ethnographic images of ‘exotic’ plants and people. By equating Malaysian people with tropical fruit Gill’s photographs suggest that – even at the turn of the millennium – stereotypical associations with ‘the tropics’ and Asia are still at play.

About Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill was born in 1959 in Singapore. She grew up in Malaysia and was educated in India and the United Kingdom. She lives and works in Sydney and Port Dickson. 

Curated by Lena Fritsch