In an era when sources are dubious and “fake news” accusations abound, art is an important channel for reflection. Some artists and creatives are particularly active and outspoken in their criticism of society, place, inequalities, politics and culture; maybe some more now than they used to be.

A number of exhibitions open in Sydney now (or soon) have something to say and will get you thinking.

Counterpower
Jemima Wyman is interested in protest imagery. The Brisbane- and LA-based artist has put together a database of thousands of images from public protests around the world. She is specifically interested in the costumes of protestors and picketers. These include the hook-nosed Guy Fawkes mask popularised by illustrator David Lloyd in V for Vendetta and patterns used by outsider groups: paisley, mime stripes, houndstooth and acid tie-dye.

Her first exhibition as a member of the Sullivan+Strumpf stable highlights resistance and taps into camouflage. Her intricately patterned circle tapestries made of hand-cut digital photographs of costumed campaigners the world over are dizzy and explosive.

Until April 22.
sullivanstrumpf.com

The Inventive Work of Shigeru Ban
Addressing a crowd at the Utzon Room at Sydney Opera House last Saturday, Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban said the goal of so many of his buildings was not completion, but rather “the time when they would be demolished”. Ban began his pro-bono humanitarian work after seeing the flimsy UN shelters provided for refugees escaping the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He has been designing temporary structures built with sustainable and local materials (usually paper tubing) in areas affected by natural and human-made disasters ever since.

Most recent is his breathtaking A-frame Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, constructed after the 2011 earthquake. For Ban, permanence in architecture does not come from hardy materials but rather “whether the building was loved or not”.

A new survey of Ban’s architecture, which features life-size and model structures, marks his first Australian project. The show will be the last in Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation’s 10-year-long Fugitive Structures series.

Until July 1.
sherman-scaf.org.au

The Island
Alex Seton’s marble oeuvre echoes his ongoing concern with human rights, most specifically Australia’s role in the asylum-seeker and refugee crisis, the worldwide issue and the perilous journeys the stateless are forced to take. “Early on in my practice I realised there is an ability to comment on who we are today,” he told Broadsheet during a studio visit. “Who we are versus what we do and what that says about us going into the future.”

A survey of Seton’s sculpture work is showing at the Newcastle Art Gallery. Titled The Island – a metaphor for both refuge and sinister isolation –the exhibition features a selection of Seton’s hefty photorealist and life-sized marble rafts, oars and life jackets. There’s also his not-so-buoyant marble palm trees. On loan from the Art Gallery of South Australia is Someone died trying to have a life like mine, an installation piece that was a key feature in the powerful 2014 Adelaide Biennial Dark Heart.

Until May 7.
nag.org.au

WARPARTY
“Like when you leave a good movie, I strive to have something of what I make linger in your mind,” says Sydney-based artist Philjames in a statement describing the work in his upcoming exhibition at Galerie Pompom. Known for painting aliens, superheroes and pop-culture characters into discarded paintings, Philjames’s work wryly tests you to reconsider the status quo. A little like the post-World War One anti-capitalist dada movement, or Warhol’s vision of celebrity, Philjames’s neo-pop turns a light-hearted mirror on the world.

WARPARTY covers a many themes (such as race, porn, heroes and monsters) in a variety of mediums. “We really do live in an age where it’s everything all the time, and this exhibition is no different,” he continues. “I like art and exhibitions that let us see how that artist looks at and makes sense of the world.”

April 12 to May 7.
galeriepompom.com