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Encounters brings together works of art that deal with the most problematic and persistent issues of the 20th century, including race relations, immigration, religion and censorship - works that have encouraged Australians to think about art, or themselves in different ways.

In a nation proud to present itself to the world as a multicultural society, it is easy to forget that the White Australia policy persisted until after the retirement of Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies in 1966. Artists have powerfully represented the postwar migrant experience - a mixture of hope and anxiety is captured in David Moore’s famous photograph of new arrivals looking over the side of a ship entering Sydney Harbour. Some artists have dealt with the loneliness of exile while others celebrate ethnic traditions.

Throughout the 20th century the Aboriginal presence has figured prominently in art, with some of the most powerful works by indigenous artists being produced within the last 30 years. Aboriginal issues remain prominent in local political debate, and Aboriginal artists have responded passionately to the stories of the ‘stolen generations’, and to the problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Another important subject is Aboriginal land rights, which were finally acknowledged by the Whitlam government in 1972, and given new force by the more recent landmark legal judgements of Mabo and Wik.

Social politics has generated some of the most powerful works of the 20th century. Issues such as feminism, the environment, and Gay rights have been the subject of much clever, satirical imagery. William Yang’s work, dealing with the human cost of the AIDS epidemic, strikes a deeper chord.

This section also includes works which reveal some of the controversies around art that has no overtly political intentions - those works which caused a scandal when they were first shown, or when they were purchased by public collections. For example, during 1978-81 Ron Robertson-Swann’s public sculpture Vault was named ‘the Yellow Peril’ and moved from Melbourne’s City Square in the dead of night after sustained public outrage. The affair was a turning point in Australian cultural awareness.

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