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William YANG

Australia born 1943

Vigil 1994 Description: triptych of gelatin silver photographs

Collection Title: Vigil
Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photographs triptych Impression: 1/10

Primary Insc: l.r. A-C chop mark red ink centre of image B 'Vigil". Domain, Sydney. William Yang. 1994 1/10."
Dimensions: printed image (overall) 36.0 h x 165.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1994
Accession No: NGA 97.1277.A-C

The modern post-Stonewall gay movement as it happened in Sydney since the early 1970s is a large subject in my collection of photographs.

In the early 1980s we heard sinister reports about AIDS coming from America. These were frightening but seemed far away. At first it seemed that only excessively promiscuous gay men were at risk. The limits of safety then were not known. When the first cases appeared in Australia a few years later there was a hysterical reaction from the press, with extremely prejudiced beat-ups of the gay community happening almost daily. This was just the beginning of a horrific time.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many people were getting sick and dying. Credit must be given to the gay and lesbian community which rallied to the cause, lobbied for better conditions and set up networks of help. (On a political, medical and social level, Australia has one of the best records in the world for treatment of people living with HIV.) The community had never experienced such a decimation of its numbers. Many lost all their friends. Vigils were a necessary social ritual where people could express grief and loss in a public way. The vigil I photographed in Sydney domain in 1994 was one of the biggest ever held.

In some ways with better treatments things have improved, but the epidemic is still with us. It hangs like a shadow over our lives. We who have survived have learned to live with loss.

William Yang, 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002