Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520; Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: September 2, 2006–April 29, 2007

July 26, 2006

“Perspectives: Simryn Gill,” on view Sept. 2 through April 29, 2007 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is the first major exhibition in the United States of contemporary artist Simryn Gill (born 1959). It also marks the first collaboration between the Sackler and the Queensland Art Gallery, Australia. This collaboration brings to the Sackler important Asian artists who have not shown extensively in the United States; in return, the Sackler is loaning premodern Asian works to QAG. (The cooperative program also includes staff exchanges.)

Gill’s work, consisting of found objects poetically transformed by the artist, examines relationships among nature, culture and knowledge as well as between individual and place. The works reveal a transnational perspective, evocatively referring to the passage of material and literary cultures across borders. Born in Singapore, Gill is of Indian ancestry and Malaysian citizenship; she currently resides in Sydney, Australia. She has exhibited extensively in Asia, Australia and Europe, most recently at the Tate Modern in spring 2006. The three works in the exhibition, which were created between 1992 and 2006, comprise a survey of her career for American audiences. “Forking Tongues” (1992) and “Forest” (1996), are loans from the Queensland Art Gallery; “Pearls” (2006), an ongoing work that was started in 2000, has elements newly made for this exhibition.

“Forking Tongues,” an elegant spiral 16 feet in diameter, is comprised of silver and red strands fashioned from silver-plate cutlery collected by the artist from thrift shops, and dried chili peppers from Asia and the Americas. Both materials possess particular histories of passage, begging the question of how things become assimilated into places. Trade routes and colonial encounters often resulted in a circulation of natural and material culture in many directions; foodstuffs as well as cultural habits crossed oceans and changed the lives of both colonizer and colonized. For example, the chili, indigenous to the Americas, migrated to South and Southeast Asia, where it dramatically altered the cuisine. Likewise, Asian dishes—from rijsttafel in Holland to curry lunches in England—appeared on the colonizer’s table.

“Forest” includes 16 large-scale black-and-white photographs that document transitory installations placed among the trees and bushes in cultivated and uncultivated locales. For these installations, Gill tore the pages of books into shapes that closely mimic leaves, twigs and aerial roots and inserted these forms into gardens and roadside locations in Singapore, where she was born, and Port Dickson, Malaysia, where she spent her childhood. The texts, which range from the Indian epic “Ramayana,” Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” to Penelope Leach’s manual on raising toddlers, were inserted into sites that include a deserted Chinese hotel, a mangrove swamp and a roadside tapioca stand. The subtly toned, somewhat mysterious photographs are exquisite records of Gill’s interventions into local topographies laden with complex histories.

With the opening of the “Perspectives” exhibition, “Pearls” makes its public debut. Never having intended the series for display, Gill became inspired to exhibit “Pearls” at the Sackler after viewing the museum’s collection of ancient jade, gold and glass beads during a March visit. Gill’s “Pearls” are strands of beads fashioned from texts. The series began in 2000, when Gill began asking friends to give her a book that had deep personal significance. The artist then transformed each volume into a necklace of beads and returned it to the owner as a decorative, fetish or power object. Gill’s choice for the Sackler of five “pearls” from the nearly 40 strands she has made in the last six years, resonates on both aesthetic and conceptual levels.

The exhibition will be accompanied by several engaging public programs. Gill will guide audiences through her installations on Nov. 4 at 12:15 p.m., and at 1:30 p.m. she and ceramics artist Gwyn Hanssen Piggot will discuss how they create works of art by challenging common assumptions about art and culture. Families can create Gill-inspired jewelry in the ImaginAsia program “From Books to Beads,” in October and November. For more information visit

The exhibition is organized by Debra Diamond, associate curator for south and Southeast Asian art, and coordinating curator of contemporary Asian art at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Diamond was joined on this exhibition by consulting curator from the Queensland Art Gallery, Suhanya Raffel.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W. and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are both on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website: