Leah King-Smith, Indigenous visual artist, was born in Gympie, Queensland in 1957. King-Smith completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in photography, at Victoria College in Melbourne in 1986. Two years later, her work was exhibited in ‘The Thousand Mile Stare: a Photographic Exhibition’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Her early photographic work was largely concerned with how identity can shift across time.

Being the daughter of an Indigenous mother and a white father whose families protested their union led King-Smith to develop an interest in exploring issues of cultural discord in her art practice.

In 1991, King-Smith’s series Patterns of Connection was met with critical acclaim. The series came about when King-Smith was given two grants by the Stegley Foundation through the Koori Oral History Program to create a picture book of a hundred nineteenth-century photographs of Aboriginal people by European photographers. However, she found these portraits so moving she felt she had to change the direction of her project to something more personally engaging. To do so, she created what she terms “photo-compositions”: artworks that combine re-photographs of the nineteenth-century photographs, her own colour photographs of the Victorian landscape and paint. King-Smith’s innovative formal treatment recovered Aboriginal people from the archives to re-position them in a positive, living, spiritual realm. King-Smith reunited figure and landscape to convey the importance of landscape to Aboriginal people and to remove the negative connotations of control and confinement that the mission, reserve, and studio backdrops evoked in the original photographs. Her partner, Duncan King-Smith, who is a sound designer, made an accompanying soundscape recording of the bush to create an immersive viewing experience. Patterns of Connection was exhibited widely, touring with different exhibitions to the United Kingdom, North America, Japan, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, as well as around Australia.

After completing a Master of Arts by research at the Queensland University of Technology in 2001, King-Smith graduated from the same university with a PhD in visual arts in 2006.

Leading up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, King-Smith was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create four portraits of indigenous athletes using her photo-composition technique combining figure and landscape.

King-Smith’s work is held in many Australian collections: National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Victoria, Waverly City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery. Her art is also held in numerous private collections, as well as in the following international collections: Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida; Sammlung Alison & Peter W. Klein, Eberdingen-Nussdorf, Germany.

In 2012 King-Smith was lecturing at the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology and was represented by Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery, Melbourne.


Amy Jackett
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