Art and Mortality

eX de Medici Blue (Bower/Bauer) 1998-2000 watercolour over black pencil image, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
eX de Medici Blue (Bower/Bauer) 1998-2000 watercolour over black pencil image, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Two Day Symposium

Art and Mortality

Death is one of the enduring themes in the arts, engaging visual artists working in all media. How do their art works, from the past and present, relate to contemporary concerns about dying and death? This two day symposium brings together leading art historians, curators and artists to discuss ideas associated with mortality and the visual arts. Topics to be addressed include: the symbolism of death, death and anatomy, death masks, photography and the limits of representation, the scene of death, and ethical and social issues. On the second day of the conference there is a special focus on works in the National Gallery’s collection and a viewing of the exhibition Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ecstasy. Film screenings are also included in the conference program.

Convened by Professor Helen Ennis, Sir William Dobell Chair of Art History and Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, ANU School of Art.

Art and Mortality has been organised by the ANU School of Art Centre for Art History and Art Theory in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia, and funded by the ANU Research School of Humanities, and the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.

The convenor, Professor Helen Ennis, and one of the overseas guests, photographer and Professor of fine arts, New Zealander Anne Noble speak with ABC Radio. Listen to the Book and Arts Daily interview.

General information +61 2 6240 6411,

For visitors with mobility difficulties +61 2 6240 6411

Email contact:


Attendance at the two-day symposium is free and all are welcome, however registrations for Day 1 and Day 2 of must be made separately on the following Eventbrite booking links:

Day 1: Friday 19 September, Sir Roland Wilson, Australian National University

Day 2: Saturday 20 September, James O'Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia;

The symposium will be preceded by a discussion with postgraduate students on Thursday 18 September from 2 to 4pm. Postgraduate students working in the area of death studies who would like to participate are invited to contact


DAY 1 | For registered guests, complimentary coffee and tea will be available at morning and afternoon breaks, and refreshments will be served from 5-6pm before the film screening. There will be no catering for lunch so list of nearby cafes will be provided at the Symposium.

DAY 2 | Food and beverages will be available for purchase at the NGA Café at any time. A complimentary afternoon tea will be provided for registered guests.


Locations for visitor parking at the ANU and the NGA can be found on their respective websites. Please plan ahead to ensure ease of access.

Keynote speakers

Dr Chris Townsend is the keynote speaker on Saturday 20 September. He is Professor of the history of avant-garde film and Director of Post Graduate Research in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Art and Death, 2008, and will be speaking about the centrality of death to artistic practice.

Anne Noble is Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts (Photography) at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand and will present a keynote lecture on Friday 19 September. She will consider the importance of imagining and representing death and the ethical issues that this raises.

Other speakers

Geoffrey Batchen, Professor, Art History, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand and author of Forget me not: Photography and remembrance, 2004 and Suspending Time: Life – Photography – Death, 2010.

Roger Butler, Senior Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Australia, and author of numerous publications including Printed: Images in Colonial Australia and Printed: Images by Australian Artists, 1885-1955.

Anthea Callen, formerly Professor of Art, ANU School of Art and Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. Her latest book is The Work of Art: Plein Air Painting and Artistic Identity in Nineteenth-Century France.  

Franchesca Cubillo, Senior Advisor Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery. Cubillo has written extensively on the repatriation of Australian Indigenous Ancestral Remains, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art and Culture, and Australian Indigenous Museology and Curatorship. She is a member of the Yanuwa, Larrakia, Bardi, and Wardaman nations of the 'Top End' region of Australia.

eX de Medici is an Australian artist with a background as a tattooist and a specialisation in gouache and watercolour. Her work was presented in a survey exhibition at the Drill Hall Gallery in 2013 and she was included in the Adelaide Biennial in 2014.

Helen Ennis, Sir William Dobell Chair of Art History and Director, Centre for Art History and Art Theory at the Australian National University, and author of Reveries: Photography and Mortality, 2008.

Joanna Gilmour, Curator, National Portrait Gallery of Australia has written widely on portraiture and is curating an exhibition on death masks.

Eilidh Gilritchie is a second year medical student at the Australian National University. She is currently researching ideas and theories surrounding death and dying in works of art by Mark Rothko and Colin McCahon as part of a collaborative program between the NGA and ANU.  

Fiona Hall, AO, Adelaide-based artist who is representing Australia at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Her retrospective exhibition was held at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2013.

Dr Deborah Hart, Senior Curator, Australian Painting and Sculpture, post 1920, National Gallery of Australia, has published extensively and is curator of Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ecstasy, opening in September 2014.

Magdalene Keaney is a PhD student at the ANU School of Art, Centre for Art History and Art Theory and was formerly Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Margie Kevin has worked as an Educator in the NGA in the Learning and Access section for the past 20 years and has recently been involved in delivering the Art Med program and the Art and Alzheimer programs.

Katrin Koenning, a Melbourne-based artist whose series Dear Chris was exhibited in 2013.

Anne O'Hehir is Curator, Photography at the National Gallery of Australia and has contributed to publications including Carol Jerrems: photographic artist and In the spotlight: Anton Bruehl photographs 1920s–1950s.

Victoria Perin was the Gordon Darling intern at the National Gallery of Australia in 2013-14 and is currently working in the NGA department of Australian Art.

Elspeth Pitt, acting Curator of Australian Drawings, National Gallery of Australia was the Harold Wright Scholar at the British Museum in 2009.

Patrick Pound, artist, whose photographic installation People who look dead but (probably) aren't, 2011-14, was recently shown at Stills Gallery, Sydney. Pound was included in Melbourne Now, 2013-14.

Rebecca Scott Bray is Co-Director, Sydney Institute of Criminology, Sydney Law School and author of the forthcoming book, Crime Scenes: Forensics and Aesthetics.

Angus Trumble, newly appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, was formerly Senior Curator at Yale University's Centre for British Art. His most recent book is Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, 2013.

Lynnette Wallworth, new media artist whose documentary film Tender, 2013, follows the ways a small group of Port Kembla residents care for their dying and dead. 

Fran Wild is Program Coordinator in the Learning and Access Department at the National Gallery of Australia and coordinates the artmed program, a collaboration between the NGA and ANU Medical School.

Film screenings

Tender (2013) 75 min. Australia. Director: Lynnette Wallworth. Producer: Kath Shelper. Ronin Films. 
Set against the stunning backdrop of the industrial town of Port Kembla, a feisty community group has determined to take back the responsibility that most of us leave to someone else –  to care for their own dead. As their plans for community-based funerals gather momentum one of their own is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Tender is a heartbreakingly beautiful and beautifully funny glimpse about taking on one of the most essential challenges of human life ... its end. 

Amour (2012) 127 min, France. Director and Screenplay: Michael Haneke. 
Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.

Updated:  10 August 2016/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications