Haunting and luminous ‘Juno Gemes: The Quiet Activist – A Survey Exhibition 1979-2019’ a response by Linda Adair


Juno Gemes : The Quiet Activist – A Survey Exhibition 1979 – 2019 is showing at the Macquarie University Gallery until 28 June 2019.  

Fugative Lovers Rest Terra Ancien Terra Nova © Juno Gemes – courtesy Macquaurie University Gallery

Lovers of photography and poetry only have days to catch this exhibition which is in its final week at the Macquarie University Art Gallery. This survey show is a delightful alchemy of elements and is a testimony to a life of artistry, activism and care. It is a must see for anyone interested in the three Ps: photography, poetry and politics.

Presenting Gemes’ works from the late 1970s through to the present, it has been already been extensively reviewed in The Australian, Australian Book Review, and Head On Photo Festival .

Gemes’ decades long commitment to social justice has to be applauded. She has taken as her project the seeing of marginalised and undocumented Australian society, watching patiently, listening intently and engendering their trust to bear witness to their struggles and lives by documenting them clearly.

Marcia Langton 1982 © Juno Gemes – courtesy Macquaurie University Gallery

The series Proof: Portraits from the Movement, 1979-2003, offers an insider’s understanding of the indigenous movement to a wider audience, providing an entry point for the viewer to feel empathy and respect for the subject that is altogether refreshing in an age saturated with the polar opposites of negative stereotypes or airbrushed positivity that oscillate in various mainstream media.

One of two showcases full of momentos and memorabilia from a career spanning four decades. Photo by Rochford Street Review

Alongside the political and the public, Gemes’ artistic development is quite literally showcased with personal memorabilia alongside master prints from the 1997 book The Language of Oysters. This publication was a collaboration with her life partner, the leading poet Robert Adamson, that sensitively revealed the livestyle of the oldest traditional river community in the country as it fished, farmed and lived sustainably along the Hawkesbury River. The resultant interplay between Geme’s haunting and luminous images and the award-winning poems of Adamson are especially evocative of the meditative caretaking of a secretive community in a beautiful landscape.

Farming Oysters © Juno Gemes – courtesy Macquaurie University Gallery

JG Self Portrait at Kalu Kalu (The Tanami Desert, 2017) is the eloquent scribe of self, a mere shadowed silhouette against the land she so clearly loves.

JG Self Portrait at Kalu Kalu, The Tanami Desert, 2017 © Juno Gemes. Photo Rochford Street Review.

 – Linda Adair


Linda Adair is a writer and critic based in the Blue Mountains. She is an editor of Rochford Street Review and Rochford Press.

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