William Yang was born in North Queensland in 1942. In 1977, his first solo exhibition, Sydneyphiles, caused a sensation because of its frank depiction of the Sydney gay party scene. In the mid-eighties, Yang began to explore his Chinese heritage, which had been lost to him by his complete assimilation into the Australian way of life. His photographic themes expanded to include landscapes and the Chinese in Australia as well as his visits to China. In 1989, Yang began to perform monologues with slide projections. The use of performance theatre through the slide shows became his favourite way of exhibiting his work.
William Yang has exhibited extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe and North America, including in Public Image, Private Lives: Family, Friends and Self in Photography, Art Gallery of South Australia (2016); Remain in Light, MCA Australia touring exhibition (2014-2015); 13th Dong Gang International Photo Festival, Korea (2014); The China Project, Gallery of Modern Art, QLD (2009); Claiming China, Australian Centre for Photography and Monash Gallery of Art (2008); Yin-Yang: China in Australia, S.H.Ervin Gallery (2008); and the major retrospective exhibition Diaries, New South Wales State Library (1998).
His work has won numerous awards and accolades, and is held in the collections of Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, National Portrait Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of New South Wales, National Library of Australia and Wollongong City Council.
‘My photographic work is in the documentary or photo journalist tradition in that the content of the images are of things I’ve seen and recorded rather than images I’ve invented. They are not purely documentary images existing in their own right since I have developed a story or text around many of them and this is as important as the image itself. I do performance pieces in the theatre where the stories are autobiographical so the self-portrait is a form that is compatible with my performance pieces.
I was brought up as an assimilated Australian and had to claim my Chinese identity which had been denied and unacknowledged. Some of the themes of my work are family, my Chinese Australian identity and cultural identity in general. Part of this process of discovery has been my visits to China, which I found visually alluring.’