“My family has had incredible struggles but there is also the other side of the spectrum in terms of triumphs and role models.” - DAMIEN SHEN
On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body is an exhibition of drawings, prints and photographs by Damien Shen that uncover devastating histories, but also demonstrate the resilience and dignity of Aboriginal people. Shen began unearthing stories of his Aboriginal ancestry after the death of his grandmother. Through his research, he discovered that the skeletal remains of more than 500 Ngarrindjeri people had been stolen by an Australian coroner and sent to a scientist in Scotland for the purpose of comparative anatomy. Believing that the removal and scientific analysis of human remains divorces the body from its spirit, Shen uses his art practice to “reintroduce the spirit.” This exhibition was presented in partnership with Australia Council for the Arts and MARS Gallery.
Damien Shen visited Kluge-Ruhe for a residency in September of 2016. He taught multiple classes for two UVA drawing courses and critiqued the students’ work. He also guest lectured to three classes at UVA. He collaborated with local artist Frank Walker, who is also an excellent draftsman who specializes in portraiture, to teach a drawing workshop for community members. Shen spoke about the repatriation of human remains with Karenne Wood (Monacan) at an event called Death and Dinner organized by the Anthropology Club of UVA, and he conducted research at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library where he inspected a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’ book of human anatomical drawings. He toured the UVA anatomy lab, learned tintype photography techniques from and created a new body of works with Richmond-based artist Emily White. Shen also spent a couple of days in the print workshop at UVA producing monotype prints.
About the Artist
Damien Shen is a Ngarrindjeri and Chinese man who grew up outside of Adelaide and holds a Bachelor’s of Visual Communications in illustration from the University of South Australia and a graduate certificate in Management from the Australian Institute of Business. After working as a graphic designer and art director, and running his own business for eight years, Damien left the creative industry to work in Aboriginal health and education. In 2013, he began his fine art practice. Since then his work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and featured in more than thirty exhibitions around Australia. He has won multiple accolades: the South Australian NAIDOC Artist of the Year Award (2014), the Prospect Portraiture Prize (2015) and the 64th Blake Prize for Emerging Artists (2016).