Open Letter From William Yang About His MELT Show Gay Sydney A Memoir

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William Yang William Yang

On the final day of Brisbane's MELT Queer Arts Festival, one of Australia's great storytellers William Yang will head to the Powerhouse for a special event.


The talk will explore William's involvement in the gay movement in Sydney, through his camera lens and words.

Here, William pens an open letter, which is a snippet of what to expect throughout his talk at the Powerhouse.

“I came to Sydney from Brisbane in 1969, the same year as Stonewall about which I’d never heard. So my story of gay Sydney coincides neatly with the birth of the modern gay movement or Gay Liberation as it was called then. So I have lived through those times.

I was only starting my photographic career, so the photos I took then were patchy, still the important thing was I was there, and I’m lucky to have anything at all. Nor was I political, I never went to the meetings, I only went to the parties. But when I came out, and decided to be visible, that was a political act in itself.

By the '80s I’d already established myself as a photographer, I’d had a major exhibition, Sydneyphiles, at the Australian Centre for Photography, and a book, 'Sydney Diary'. I began doing my slideshows as a way of showing my colour photos, my transparencies or slides as they were called. The process to get them printed was Cibachrome and it was expensive, so I saw projecting as an alternative method.

I found that when projecting there was a natural tendency to talk with the images so my first show 'The Face Of Buddha' was a mixture of image projection, music and spoken word. It consisted of nine photographic essays or short stories. I’d call the show a success although I lost money, but everyone liked the form, and so began my career as a performance artist using slide projection.

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My third piece 'Sadness', about the AIDS pandemic in Sydney in the early '90s, was my breakthrough event. It was partly because it was a story of the time and the format was unusual, no one else was doing slideshows quite like me. It toured Australia and the world and it set up for me a touring circuit with arts festivals around the world.

The '90s and '00s, was my heyday. I did many productions of image projection, talking and  live music, which toured extensively overseas: 'Blood Links', 'Shadows', 'Objects For Meditation' and 'Friends Of Dorothy', a piece about gay Sydney. But during and after the Global Financial Crisis money was scarce and the touring dried up. No one could afford the airfares. I was involved in Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and I began teaching my method to others. I also started doing a simplified version of my work, talks, where I went back to basics – just me talking with the data projector, no live musicians or production crew.

'Gay Sydney A Memoir' is one of those talks. It was first performed at the Art Gallery of NSW during AIDS week in 2017. I’ve come to like this no frills version of my work, it comes back to basic storytelling and the challenge is to engage the audience. The LGBTIQ  story keeps changing and evolving, although slowly, but since 1969 we have seen great changes in the community, and it is this complex story that I seek to draw upon.”


'William Yang: Gay Sydney A Memoir' plays Brisbane Powerhouse 7 July.

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