Born 1968, Adelaide, South Australia
Darren Siwes's images have become instantly recognisable. Photographing familiar South Australian landmarks, Siwes uses double exposure to superimpose the ghostly figure of an Aboriginal man in a suit and tie standing in a pose that suggests both a physical resoluteness as well as a 'here I am' gesture of simplicity and vulnerability. The landmarks are focal points of local cultural and historical identity: the Old Gum Tree where the colony of South Australia was founded; the Festival Centre, symbol of the city's cultural ambitions; Mt Lofty House, a grand colonial relic of aristocratic privilege.
The political nature of Siwes' work seems at first sight only too apparent. He comments that he feels little connection to the traditional heritage of Aboriginal art, but instead, inspired by artists like Tracey Moffatt and Gordon Bennett, is interested in exploring the possibilities of Aboriginal art in new forms and new media. His is an identity art, perhaps, but an identity that is, like the figures in his photographs, blurred or partly erased. Trained Man shows a ghostly figure on a deserted railway platform at night, the punning title hinting at the suppression of cultural and individual identity, invoking the good citizenship of those who know how to wait, even for a train that may never come.
If Siwes's stubbornly repeated image can be read as a haunting figure of resilience, of survival despite the erasures of history, it is also a very contemporary presence, not only because of the suit and tie, but because the figure is so clearly a representation – a transparent sign of presence rather than its opaque reality – that the viewer is forced to confront Aboriginality itself as not an essence but a sign, endlessly reinvented, endlessly contemporary.
Russell Smith from his Samstag catalogue essay, Making The Makers
2002 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship
2002 MFA, Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, UK
1997 Graduate Diploma of Education, University of South Australia
1996 Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours), University of South Australia