Re-orienting the colonial past of Customs House

Reclaiming spaces, Redefining Stories; new photography exhibition at Immigration Museum.

Photo: Pia Johnson, Picnics, from Re-Orient, 2023

Acclaimed Chinese-Italian Australian photographer Pia Johnson investigates the colonial and colonising history of the Immigration Museum building, with her beautiful new photo series Re-Orient: Reclaiming Spaces, Redefining Stories.

Opening on Saturday March 16, the exhibition finds Pia ‘re-orienting’ herself through a series of self-portraits within the grand physical spaces of the museum, its collection and architecture.

Created as an artist-in-residence at the Immigration Museum, Pia uses the 19th century Customs House – where new arrivals had their baggage and papers checked and where the infamous Dictation Test was administered - as a site-specific location to explore how we understand our collective transnational communities and histories. She examines the rich and emotional territory of identity, and questions how site and place can shift our sense of belonging across time.

‘As a female Eurasian Australian, it’s an important moment for me to create artistic work within an iconic Melbourne colonial building and feel safe to explore and engage with its history - a place where my ancestors would not feel welcome,’ says Pia.

‘By sharing my experience and artwork, the project aims to inspire more transcultural artists to feel they too can seek out territories that they might not belong to.’

In the process of creating the self-portraits for Re-Orient, Pia worked with museum staff to access the collection and research the history of the Immigration Museum site and its impact on Australia’s migration history.

‘Pia’s work is vital and topical in challenging and understanding how Australia negotiates its colonial history and its place today,’ says Museums Victoria CEO & Director Lynley Crosswell.

Re-orient is a natural fit for Immigration Museum - talking to cross-cultural identity and providing a space for our collective sense of belonging.’

Pia’s work has been exhibited across Australia and internationally and is represented in private and public collections including the National Gallery of Victoria.

Pia’s practice emerged out of a concern with issues of cultural identity and difference, stemming from her mixed background of Chinese Italian-Australian descent. These themes have underpinned her interest in memory, cultural spaces and performance to investigate notions of belonging and otherness.

Re-Orient: Reclaiming Spaces, Redefining Stories is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.

For further information visit the Immigration Museum website

Open: 16 March – 11 August 2024

Location: Immigration Museum, 400 Flinders St, Melbourne 
Tickets: Included with museum entry – Adults: $15 | Seniors: $10 Concession: Free | Children: Free

On sale at Immigration Museum and online here

A grey icon of a person
Media and Communications Team
Museums Victoria
[email protected]
0466 622 621

Join the mailing list and get the latest from our Museums direct to your inbox.

Share your thoughts to WIN

We'd love to hear about your experience with our website. Our survey takes less than 10 minutes and entries go in a draw to win a $100 gift voucher at our online store!