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At about 5.40am on 22 September 1882, fire broke out in the Garden Palace in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, just three years after the domed building, designed by James Barnet and made from iron, glass and wood, had opened for the Sydney International Exhibition. The building, its ground floor covering more than two hectares, was consumed within 40 minutes. No one knows how the fire started.

Countless Aboriginal artefacts were lost in the Garden Palace fire, only some of which were catalogued. Items such as collections of shields, seen by Europeans as weapons of defence were not appreciated as works of art in themselves, with fine carving.

Greg Semu fuses the old and the new. His costumed actors and models pose in reference to historical paintings promulgating Christian iconography as well as Semu’s ancestral and spiritual home of Samoa, in still images with distinctly postcolonial historical twists.

Yet despite the richness of these tableaux, Auckland-born Semu considers his photography more artisan craft than art. Now based in Sydney, Semu sits in a café around the corner from the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) where institutional and private collections of his work from the past 20-plus years are being gathered for a retrospective exhibition, the sixth iteration of SCAF’s Collection+ series.

Fifty essays and dispatches on
what it means to be gay today.

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