• Fiona Prior

Skin Deep – Part of the 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Cultural Programme

Updated: Feb 24

My visit to ‘Skin Deep’ at the National Art School comprised an interesting programme of events. Initially, I thought it was to be purely an exhibition of body art …tattoos, piercings etc. In my days of studying Fine Arts, the term ‘Modern Primitives’ was used to describe those in contemporary society who adorned their skin, so I’ve been familiar with an arts filter placed over the phenomena for some time.


Skin Deep’ the exhibition in fact was so much more. We were greeted in the college grounds by National Art School Executive Producer Terese Casu who told us to make sure we also took the tour that aligned with the night’s exhibition and performance. She explained that the college was originally the Darlinghurst goal for women. We were invited to walk through a tunnel in the footsteps of the first female prisoners of Sydney, a sandstone corridor where they would weekly have their hair washed and then take communion. Strange mix? The walk held more joy than its history as an embroidery artist – she explained her medium as ‘tattooing’ fabric – showed us photos of those inmates and explained that many had ‘tattooed’ phrases of love and names of loved ones on each other in their time of imprisonment. These phrases and words embellished her fabric.

image: 'Akashi and Basjia' by Waded. Courtesy of Waded and NAS


The building in which the exhibition was held was equally historically ambient with its sandstone structure and beautiful cavernous form. Walking through the photographs by Sydney fashion photographer Waded; we were confronted by monumental photographs of a variety of body shapes, genders, colours, sizes, ages, etc. The exhibition had a sense of meeting numerous sub-tribes. Some were wearing traditional motifs from their ancestry. Some, (like Ostling, the illustrated man) seemed like a member of an urban tribes from another era; I could imagine his once muscular fore-arm picking up a pint in a pub but the teddy bears tattooed on his tummy gave away that he was a leather man from an equally aging sub-tribe. Others still, wore self-conscious and exquisite tattoos accompanied by winged black eyeliner, piercings and the fashion accoutrements of a much younger and aesthetically pre-occupied generation.

image: 'Ostling' by Waded. Courtesy of Waded and NAS


Walking past the giant hanging photo display into a chair lined performance space, suddenly many of the images on those photos were now standing on pedestals in a moodily lit room. Accompanied first by music only and then by classical singers, the performance (choreographed by Meryl Tankard) was one of slow moving human sculptures turning in time and though emotions until one of the ‘bodies’ (the Amazing Ari) suddenly took flight on satin ropes and glided across the ceiling of the room! Gorgeous!


But wait, there’s more …


Paul Capsis wandered into the performance room and sang ‘Imagine’. Once finished, and with an infectious smile, this diminutive performer sat down next to an Amazonian ‘sculpture’ with braided hair and voluptuous curves and breathed in the ambience.


Looking round the room at performers and audience, I noted that we made a rather eclectic mix!


The National Art School’s Skin Deep Exhibition will run from 18 February - 7 March.

Part of the 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Ticket from $15-$30. To book go to nas.edu.au

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