Author Archives: Tom McLean

Stitched Together: The Rajah Quilt

It’s taken me a while to appreciate the art of the quilt. When I was young, I associated quilts with infants, women’s groups, and the olden days—none of which interested me very much. Quilts didn’t feature prominently in my family, though two stand out now. My mother made a quilt for her grandchild, my brother’s […]

Outside Guests: Doug Aitken’s migration (empire)

I recently spent five weeks travelling in the US and UK for work. If you showed me a picture of a street I regularly visited—in Pasadena, or London, or Newcastle—I imagine I could identify it. If you asked me to identify the room I stayed in, well, that would be trickier. The hotel room is […]

Making a New Home: Olveston, Linden, and the Jewish Museum of Australia

In 2002 I visited Poland for the first time. I took an overnight train from Berlin and arrived in Katowice on a freezing November morning. The skies were overcast, buses belched smoke, and the ground was covered in muddy ice and snow. In other words, it was miserable. And yet, as I made my way […]

New Art for a Migrant World: Brisbane’s Eighth Asia Pacific Triennial

Since 1993, Brisbane, Australia has hosted a remarkable and unique cultural event: the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. The eighth instalment opened in November 2015 at the venerable Queensland Art Gallery and its shiny young neighbour the Gallery of Modern Art. Two years ago I wrote about Brisbane and a spectacular exhibition of Cai […]

Cry the Beloved Prejudice: Reflections on South Africa

A few weeks ago I discovered an intruder in my back yard. An uninvited guest who had taken root among the natives. When I asked my gardener about the exotic foreigner who seemed so nonchalant about interrupting my peace and quiet (and views), he simply replied, “definitely not from here. Probably South African.” Strange. If […]

Colonial Returns: Tom Roberts’s Coming South

Countless nineteenth-century travelogues were written by Britons visiting the settler colonies: Charles Dickens wrote about his time in North America, Anthony Trollope described his travels in Australasia and South Africa, Rudyard Kipling wrote about all of the above. Far less common and less celebrated are recorded journeys from the other perspective: Americans or Australians travelling […]

The Migrants Keep Coming: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series

What are the greatest achievements in American arts on the theme of migration? John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath comes to mind, as do Dorothea Lange’s photographs of migrant farm families. I would add Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series now on show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In sixty small panel paintings, Lawrence […]

Converging Migrants: Kearney’s Archway Monument and the Sandhill Cranes

It was supposed to be about books. Pictures can be removed from frames. Furniture can be disassembled and shipped. Nice, expensive stuff can be left with trustworthy people who appreciate nice, expensive stuff. But if you’re moving overseas, books are tricky. They’re bulky, heavy, and expensive to ship. And what if they’re damaged or get […]

Doubtful Nationalities: A Josef Koudelka Retrospective

So, what nationality are you?” In my Omaha grade school in the mid-1970s, we’d ask each other this question with deep concern. I had friends who claimed Irish with pride (especially around St Patrick’s Day, or when the Boston Celtics were in the playoffs—thanks to a guy named Havlicek, but never mind). German was a […]

Enduring Hunger: Memorialising the Irish Famine Overseas

In the mid 1990s, the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine inspired Irish diaspora communities around the globe to commemorate the deaths of more than one million persons and the displacement of more than two million. These communities were faced with a challenge: how do we publicly memorialise death and survival? Is there a way […]