Eugenia Lim The Ambassador – On Now at the Culture Hub

Exploring themes such as cultural and national identity, race, migration and stereotypes, Eugenia Lim’s ‘The Ambassador’ is a glimpse into a world where history is rewritten, where roles are reversed, and the question is asked: what makes us who we are? Coastbeat’s Louise Lesoa visited the exhibition in the Culture Hub at Coffs Central. 

Born in Melbourne Eugenia Lim is an Australian artist of Chinese–Singaporean descent. Her work includes video, performance and installation. She explores the way national identities and stereotypes are formed through the lens of her invented personas.

“I have also grown up between two cultures as a child of diaspora and never really felt at home in any one country,” she says. “This feeling of inbetweenness has become something that fuels my work.”

The Peoples Currency by Eugenia Lim
Eugenia Lim, The People’s Currency, 2017, performance, dimensions variable. Photo by Zan Wimberly. Courtesy of the artist.

Questioning the Australia-Asian narrative

In this three-part project, Eugenia transforms herself into the Ambassador, a Mao-like persona who sits halfway between truth and fantasy. She presents an envisioned history – where roles are reversed, and the Australian-Asian narrative is questioned.

The exhibition at the Culture Hub in Coffs Central presents three works. In Yellow Peril (2015), Eugenia Lim reimagines history by changing the identity of the person who found the Welcome Stranger gold nugget from an Irish male to an Asian-Australia female. The phrase ‘Yellow Peril’ is a racist metaphor suggesting Asian people are a danger to the Western world. It speaks to cultural stereotypes that originated in the late 19th century when Chinese immigration became more common. In The People’s Currency (2017), Lim is interested in the social costs of the world we live in. The Australian Ugliness (2017) is a three channel video installation considering the role of architecture in shaping culture and cultural diversity.

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Cultural identity and a sense of belonging

At a superficial level, there’s something almost comical about Lim’s performance in The Ambassador. In Federation Square, Melbourne’s mecca for arts and culture, Lim appears as her Mao-like persona, printing fake money, waving a gold flag and catching the attention of the public, who are only too happy to play along. Lim instructs passersby to perform ludicrous tasks for ‘payment’ of the fake currency and as she sternly barks out orders to run, skip or mimic her actions, she’s surrounded by faces of glee. The public doesn’t quite understand what they’re playing along with, but without any of the real threats that are often found in autocratic societies, it’s a fun performance in a fantasy world. Isn’t it?

In regional Victoria as Lim stands amongst the crowds at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, one of the sites of the original gold rush era, her character is less accepted. The faces around her are more curious, questioning, and the feeling is often one of trying to ‘place’ her amongst the discoveries.

A photo of an installation at Eugenia Lim's exhibition The Ambassador
Eugenia Lim, The Australian Ugliness, 2018, three channel video installation. Production still by Tom Ross. Courtesy of the artist.

“What makes us perceive that someone does or doesn’t belong?” asks Eugenia. 

It’s obvious after exploring the exhibition, the the space creates an environment conducive to exploration and challenging questions. As the background music speeds up during a performance, there’s something almost unsettling about what Eugenia Lim presents and you realise that below the surface, there’s more than meets the eye.

Eugenia Lim’s ‘The Ambassador’ is open until the January 16 2021 at the Culture Hub, Level 1 Coffs Central Shopping Centre.

This is a A4 Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Museums & Galleries of NSW touring exhibition. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program.