Re-Orient: Reclaiming Spaces, Redefining Stories

Sat 16th March, 2024 – Sun 11th August, 2024
10:00am – 5:00pm
Immigration Museum
400 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Price: $15
A Chinese-Italian Aussie photographer “re-orients” a Melbourne landmark through a series of self-portraits, on display at the Immigration Museum.

Today, the 19th-century-built Customs House – one of Melbourne’s most important public buildings – is the home of the Immigration Museum, which brings histories, stories and contemporary issues faced by Victoria’s diverse communities to a wide audience. But in a previous life, it was a place where immigrants came face to face with the harshness of the White Australia Policy.

Now a photographer with Chinese, Italian and Australian heritage has reclaimed the space through a new series of self-portraits taken in and around the grand building, encouraging other trans-cultural artists to take back places where their ancestors were shunned and alienated. Through the exhibition – titled Re-Orient: Reclaiming Spaces, Redefining Stories – Immigration Museum artist-in-residence Pia Johnson shines a light on Customs House’s colonial history and examines how places affect a community’s sense of belonging across time.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, new arrivals in Victoria had their baggage and papers checked at Customs House. It was also where the infamous dictation test was given out; prospective immigrants were tasked with transcribing a 50-word passage dictated by an immigration officer – only 52 out of 1359 people passed between 1902 and 1909. White British immigrants didn’t have to take the test, and it was used to turn away anyone the government considered undesirable.

Much of Johnson’s work deals with cultural identity and difference, with a focus on themes of memory, cultural spaces, belonging and otherness. Johnson will also be at a free artist launch at the museum on Sunday March 17 to meet visitors and welcome them to the exhibition.

Re-Orient: Reclaiming Spaces, Redefining Stories is showing at the Immigration Museum from March 16 to August 11. Access to the exhibition is included with museum entry.

Broadsheet is a proud partner of Museums Victoria.