Atong Atem (SS/AU)

To Be Real

23 November 2020 - 07 March 2021
Image: Atong Atem, [Saba and Gabby], 2020. Courtesy the artist and MARS Gallery.

Image: Atong Atem, Saba and Gabby, 2020. Courtesy the artist and MARS Gallery.


23 November 2020 - 07 March 2021




Immigration Museum [i]
400 Flinders St, Melbourne
Daily 10am – 5pm


Wheelchair access, Accessible Toilets

Surreal mythologies and constructed un/realities are brought to life in To Be Real, a major new commission by South Sudanese/Australian artist Atong Atem for PHOTO 2021.

Atem is known for exploring migrant narratives, postcolonial practices in the diaspora and identity through portraiture. Her dynamic compositions are drenched with colour, pattern, and potent visual references. These scenes reference the ways in which we construct personal and collective narratives, in an interplay of truth, reality, drama and artifice.

An eclectic and precise creator, Atem draws details from the visual languages of fantasy and science fiction, afrofuturism, history and mythology, studio portraiture and youth culture. Her subjects are empowered to control their own narratives. Untethered from realities, they flourish in liminal dream spaces filled with imagination and poetry. Her images prompt us to consider how we construct pictures and stories to understand ourselves, and what new possibilities we might see for ourselves when we embrace unreality.

View on Map


PHOTO Channel

Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March