Indigenous Artist Ryan Presley Unveils Subversive Mural at National Portrait Gallery

Indigenous Artist Ryan Presley Unveils Subversive Mural at National Portrait Gallery

A powerful and thought-provoking mural by Marri Ngarr artist Ryan Presley is set to captivate visitors as they enter the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Titled “Paradise Won,” the mural challenges traditional narratives with its striking imagery and subversive themes. Indigenous Artist Ryan Presley Unveils Subversive Mural at National Portrait Gallery

At almost 20 meters wide and four meters tall, “Paradise Won” dominates the wall leading to the gallery entrance. The mural features an Indigenous woman performing a burnout in a flying red hot rod adorned with the number plate “BLK PWR.” This provocative image serves as a bold introduction to Presley’s reinterpretation of traditional religious art.

Drawing inspiration from the story of Elijah from the Old Testament, who ascended to heaven in a flaming chariot, Presley transforms religious iconography into symbols of resistance and empowerment. Each archway in the mural showcases a heroic Aboriginal figure with a flaming gold halo, engaged in acts of defiance or liberation.

Presley explains that his intention was not necessarily to be subversive but to articulate his perspective and experiences of colonialism. “It’s a recount of my life and the lives of people dear to me, put through a poetic image format,” he says.

The mural features seven characters across nine archways, referencing various narratives including the tale of St. George and the dragon, which Presley believes has influenced Western cultural frameworks for colonization. These historical elements are juxtaposed with contemporary issues such as youth incarceration, deaths in custody, and mining on traditional lands, reflecting the complexities of Indigenous experiences in Australia.

Presley’s background in a Catholic family in Alice Springs informs his appreciation for religious iconography, although he no longer identifies as religious. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the influence of religious imagery on his artistic practice and explores how colonialism has been intertwined with religious and economic systems throughout history.

“Paradise Won” is just one example of Presley’s thought-provoking artistry. His watercolor painting “Blood Money – Infinite Dollar Note – Aunty Regina Pilawuk Wilson,” a finalist in the 2023 Archibald Prize, challenges viewers to reconsider the representation of Aboriginal Australians in mainstream culture.

Having honed his artistic practice over the past 15 years, Presley’s career has seen significant growth, with major exhibitions and opportunities coming his way. The National Portrait Gallery mural, created from digitized images of Presley’s previous works printed onto vinyl and overlaid with gold leaf, marks another milestone in his artistic journey.

Displayed in the Gallery’s Tim Fairfax Forecourt until May 2025, “Paradise Won” invites visitors to engage with Indigenous perspectives and narratives, challenging them to confront the complexities of Australia’s colonial history and its impact on Indigenous communities.

The National Indigenous Cultural Centre (NICC) is an Indigenous home. We provide Indigenous products, music, art and news. If you want Indigenous gifts and merchandise, bush tucker food at your next event or Indigenous entertainment at your next party, expo or conference, feel free to contact us! Visit our page:

Tony Clemenger

Chief Executive Officer

0419 431 649

Level 1 397 Chapel Street South Yarra 3141


Write a comment