Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this exhibition and webpage may contain images and voices of deceased persons and material that is culturally sensitive.

Exhibition dates: 9 November 2023 to 30 June 2024.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10am - 4pm. FREE ENTRY

Location: Arts West Gallery, Ground Level, Arts West Building, University of Melbourne, Parkville.

About the exhibition

DOMINION brings together six contemporary artists with artworks from the collections of the University of Melbourne, and The Johnston Collection, to reinvigorate notions of dominion as a space for power which exists beyond confines of time and the singular notion of humanity. It is one that breaches concepts of both the political and sublime to reveal the corporeal being beyond the temporal and subcelestial. The subjectivities arising out of the Enlightenment, and subsequently problematised in European Romanticism, are renegotiated through the narratives of the artists.

Enlightenment thought wrestled with notions of the human and the inhuman, brought into focus by the increasing intensity of European encounters with nonEuropean people. The visual and material culture of the European eighteenth century is suffused with a brittle elegance that masks deep injustices. The polite trappings of the age of sociability – refined furniture, porcelain vessels for the consumption of imported hot beverages, witty small-scale porcelain sculptures – are witnesses to ugly truths and failings.

The contemporary artists in this exhibition upend received colonial hegemonies. Responding to the visionary cosmic imaginings of Romantic artists William Blake and John Martin, the revolutionary imagination and vision of the human is found in the illustrations of Safdar Ahmed. Here, the real and imagined, the political and Divine collapse to reveal the pressing issues of our era. Post-colonial discourses remain entangled in the remnants of Romanticism in a beautiful and bewildering spiral which cuts to the heart of our shared humanity. Hadieh Shafie’s meticulously stacked and rolled pages remind us that this story is something that is both hidden and known. Inside these pages, Shafie writes the word eshgh (love) repetitively, as though coaxing, or willing us to choose love.

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah offers a conversation between worlds, one which stretches the imagination to embrace the notion of the unthinkable journey, and the way in which this is grounded in recollections of migration and the movement of bodies across the globe and beyond. Extending and transforming the eighteenth-century tradition of porcelain sculpture as a vehicle for political discourse, Penny Byrne’s reimagined porcelain figures revisit this global human movement, where the stillness of the ones fleeing is disturbing as much as it is absurd. The repurposing of twentieth century figures derived from an eighteenth-century artform reminds us of the violence and despair of displacement. However, in a single gesture, Byrne is able to reorientate the in/humanity to moments of justice and joy.

Michael Riley’s devastatingly beautiful Empire is a glorious vision of the divinity of a living earth, and of the ruins of Christian colonialism, consolidated through a hauntingly beautiful landscape inhabited by the living and the dead. Riley insists on the eternal sacrality of Sovereign land. This idea is echoed in Richard Bell’s short film which is loaded with fierce truth-telling cloaked in biting humour. Bell transcends the demand to engage in the counternarratives of colonialism and instead summons his Sovereign position to direct the conversation to Indigenous empowerment.

Here, we re-imagine a contemporary Dominion, as a de-location of hegemony, as something activated in real time and across time, as a place of despair and joy, and of resilience and power.

Featured Artists

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Safdar Ahmed, Richard Bell, Penny Byrne, Michael Riley and Hadieh Shafie.


We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this exhibition is held, the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and future, and acknowledge the importance of Indigenous Knowledge in the Academy.

DOMINION is commissioned by the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture (ERCC) Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne.


‚ÄčNur Shkembi, Dr Matthew Martin, Dr David Sequeira


Anita Archer

Major Partners

  • University of Melbourne Faculty of Arts
  • Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative


  • ABC Archives
  • Being Human Festival
  • Fiona & Sidney Myer Gallery
  • Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation
  • Milani Gallery
  • Moore Contemporary
  • Murdoch University Art Collection
  • Museums and Collections, University of Melbourne
  • Prints Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Melbourne
  • School of Culture and Communication
  • The Johnston Collection
  • Yavuz Gallery

Exhibition photography by Claudia Chalupka, House Studios.

Dr Matthew Martin Dr Anita Archer and Nur Shkembi_1T7A4967 Image: Dr Matthew Martin, Dr Anita Archer and Nur Shkembi. Photography by Claudia Chalupka, House Studios.

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