Rainbow Serpent (Version)
Daniel Boyd is known for his multidisciplinary practice that resituates colonial history within an infinitely expansive universe. In his paintings, videos, and installations, Boyd employs dots as a visual and conceptual tool to explore themes of identity and perception, memory and history. Reiterated endlessly to form expansive constellations, the dots—or lenses—offer a distinct point of knowledge, experience, or perspective from which to view his work.
Rainbow Serpent (Version) is Boyd’s first major exhibition in Meanjin/Brisbane, a place of cultural and ancestral significance for him. Encompassing new paintings, a new sculpture, a mirrored stage, and live activations, it continues his interrogation of Western scientific, artistic, and philosophical thought and their roles in establishing the colonial Australian state.
Spanning subjects from classical antiquity to his own family history, Boyd’s paintings explore the visual language of imperial placemaking, particularly as it materialised in Queensland. Unfolding across the galleries as a narrative, they contend with the many ways colonisation has disrupted cultural tradition and infiltrated our civic imagination.
Boyd’s shimmering mirrored stage serves to illuminate these histories and engage viewers in their reconstruction. As audiences move through the galleries, its network of reflective lenses provides infinite entry points into the stories and memories represented in each painting.
For the exhibition’s duration, First Nations artists, activists, scholars, and community groups will share the gallery spaces in a collective act of civic reclamation. Trough movement, performance, and yarning, their activations will build on the layers of history embedded in this place and on this Country. The accumulation of these experiences will serve as a poignant reminder that First Nations people have sustained cultural traditions for over 60,000 years, despite ongoing imperial expansion.
Transcending temporal and spatial bounds, Rainbow Serpent (Version) unfolds as a vast universe of embodied experience, unlocking new ways of understanding history, place, and identity. Through a poetic contemplation of art and culture, science and philosophy, Boyd challenges Eurocentric narratives that have dominated the historical canon and rationalised imperial conquest. Drawing attention to layered, multifaceted histories, Rainbow Serpent (Version) invites us to reconsider the lenses through which we view past, present, and future.
Curated by Liz Nowell.
Rainbow Serpent (Version) begins by considering the site where the gallery stands—Fortitude Valley—and the artist’s connection to it through his matrilineal Yuggera heritage. Several paintings rework studio portraits of First Nations peoples photographed in Fortitude Valley in the 1870s. A ethnographic portrait of a young boy hangs across from Untitled (ILYM) (2023), which depicts Boyd in his mother’s arms. By reclaiming these images, he offers each subject the opportunity to exist outside of the anthropological gaze.
Untitled (ILYM) 2022
Untitled (HTAALMSTALS) 2023
Untitled (BDACB) 2023
Untitled (GABISIFV) 2023
The shimmering dotted surface of Untitled (2023) draws from the dotted motif repeated in the artist’s paintings. Boyd employs this galactic pattern as a network of lenses, offering viewers infinite entry points to experience each artwork. Cast as an intricate web across the entire gallery floor, this porous stage will be activated by First Nations collaborators throughout the exhibition, creating space for a multitude of First Nations perspectives, and building upon the history of the site.
Beyond the aesthetics of imperial placemaking, Rainbow Serpent (Version) also confronts the ways that capital and empire were forged through the exploitation of First Peoples. Drawing upon his Aboriginal and South Sea Islander heritage, these works offer a deeply personal perspective of the global slave trade, drawing on the experiences of Boyd’s own family members. The artist’s grandmother sits opposite a reproduction of a Victorian-era studio portrait featuring a woman in a bonnet and a crisp white apron. With their unyielding gazes fixed upon a charred dining room table at the centre of the gallery, these matriarchs confront the hidden history of slavery and indentured labour in Australia.
Untitled (MPABT#1) 2023
Untitled (MPABT#2) 2023
Untitled (FLICSAIBE) 2023
Untitled (MPABT#4) 2023
Untitled (MPABT#3) 2023
Untitled (NILYMY) 2023
Untitled (DR) 2023
Boyd’s artistic practice reframes the aesthetics and symbols of Western philosophy, to confront the enduring legacy of colonial violence in our built environment, civic spaces, and cultural discourse. These works depict relics from classicism, modernism, and the Enlightenment to explore the visual language of imperial placemaking, which has been instrumental in territorial conquest. In one pairing, an architectural drawing of an elaborate column chapter hangs alongside the artist’s impression of the Cook Monument, located in Cooktown, Queensland. This cenotaph, a towering presence on Guugu Yimithirr country, is among numerous monuments dedicated to Captain James Cook, symbolising British occupation. Placed in proximity to the classical column, an emblem of Ancient Greece, Boyd draws a powerful connection between the origins of modern democracy, often hailed as ‘civilized freedom’, and the dispossession of Aboriginal land. Drawing connections across time and space, these works reveal how white supremacy subtly asserts itself in the everyday environment.
Untitled (SPSIDKAATYDC) 2023
Untitled (NAIFAG) 2023
Untitled (TDITABWTB) 2023
Untitled (INEHABITM) 2023
Untitled (POLBPOLB) 2023
Untitled (MMAP) 2017
Untitled (WITSOC) 2023
Untitled (YAPMFYCESYE) 2023
Works courtesy the artist; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; Station, Melbourne; and Kukje Gallery, Seoul.
Audio descriptions and commentary
Daniel Boyd draws on his heritage—as a Kudjala, Ghungalu, Wangerriburra, Wakka Wakka, Gubbi Gubbi, Kuku Yalanji, Bundjalung, and Yuggera man from North Queensland and North Pentecost Island in Vanuatu—to interrogate legacies of colonisation. He has been exhibiting nationally and internationally since 2005. In 2014, he was the first Indigenous Australian to win the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. He has participated in major biennales and exhibitions, including the 2015 Venice Biennale, the 2016 Biennale of Sydney, the 2017 National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the 2017 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. In 2017, he was in Mondialité, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Asad Raza at the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels. In 2022, his survey exhibition Treasure Island was presented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Boyd is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; Station, Melbourne; and Kukje Gallery, Seoul.