Atong Atem gears up to attend photo basel 2022 with MARS Gallery

Australian first: Melbourne artist and representing gallery take awarded portrait photography practice to the international stage.

Words: Charlotte Middleton

Courtesy of her win of the inaugural $80,000 La Prairie Art Award in March 2022, Atong Atem will journey to Switzerland with her representing gallery, MARS Gallery (Naarm/Melbourne), to show new work at photo basel international art fair from 14 – 19 June 2022.

Atem and MARS Gallery will be the first Australian artist and gallery to show at Switzerland’s only international art fair dedicated to photography-based art.

In addition to the generous cash prize, La Prairie Art Award – facilitated by a partnership between the Art Gallery of NSW and La Prairie luxury skincare and beauty brand – provides the recipient an international artist residency, so Atem will attend Art Basel as a VIP guest of the Swiss luxury house.

Atem is an Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist and writer based in Naarm/Melbourne working predominantly in photography. Frequently exploring migrant stories and post-colonial histories of the African diaspora, the young artist has garnered critical acclaim for the originality of her ambitiously crafted and vibrant photographic portraits in recent years.

Observation of the othering of different faces, races, and cultures within what remains a predominantly white Australia informs Atem’s representation of her subjects, where makeup and face paint, decorative props and fashion function as tools to highlight the relativity of notions of what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’.

For Atem, the experiential outcomes of the La Prairie award, including the residency and trip to Art Basel, are anticipated as transformative opportunities.

“I’m at that point in my career where I’m very much an emerging artist and I don’t have a lot of resources – and what resources I do have are often reinvested into my tools or life responsibilities – so the invitation to go to an amazing art hub such as art basel is really meaningful, because I don’t think I would do that for myself,” said the artist.

MARS Gallery will present new work by Atong Atem at Stand 24 of photo basel international art fair from 14 – 19 June 2022, Volkshaus Basel, Switzerland. See more at @photobasel.

This article was posted 25 May 2022.

Image: Atong Atem, ‘Bride with Veil’, 2022. Ilford smooth pearl print, edition of 3 + 2 AP, 150 x 100cm / edition of 10 + 2 AP, 90 x 60cm.


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