Gallre Pejean hosts new exhibition The Celestials from artist Mandy Hunniford

Celestials: Artist Mandy Hunniford with one of her works on display at Gallery Pejean, part of her exhibition 'The Celestials'.
Celestials: Artist Mandy Hunniford with one of her works on display at Gallery Pejean, part of her exhibition 'The Celestials'.

The first impression of artist Mandy Hunniford’s new exhibition at Gallery Pejean is one of brilliant gold.

Each painting in her new series The Celestials has lashings of gold accentuated by deep blood reds.

A splash of purple offers one eye-catching change from the accentuating greens and blues, but it’s the gold that keeps drawing the eye.

And it’s the gold and red that tells the story – one of Chinese history in Launceston, some of the first pioneering settlers, known as ‘Celestials’ by their white neighbours.

As an established artist, Hunniford said the exhibition took about six months to develop, digging into the lesser-known history of Launceston’s Chinese settlers to tell fragment of their stories.

“It’s hopefully an exhibition that will tell Tasmanians about a small bit of history in that certain time,” Hunniford said.

“That’s what my work is about now – it’s contemporary art but it’s … with a historical perspective.”

It’s hopefully a exhibition that will tell Tasmanians about a small bit of history.

Artist Mandy Hunniford

Through her paintings, Hunniford reimagines scenes from the early years of Chinese Tasmanian history, linked through the motif of bright red lanterns and streaks of strong gold text.

Hunniford’s research took her from the past to the present day, discovering little-known facts about the role of Chinese settlers in the city’s early life.

Her efforts connected her to the descendants of some of her research subjects.

She tracked down the grandson of Chinese community leader and business man James Chung Gon, Bob Chung Gon, through social media, creating connections from the past to the present through her work.

“James Chung Gon used to have a vegetable store [in Launceston],” Hunniford said.

“He actually had an apple, pear and cherry orchard at Turner’s Marsh … and some of the trees are still there.”

Her paintings highlight iconic locations in the city – Cataract Gorge, lit up by the recurring red lanterns, the gates of City Park likewise, Albert Hall and boats on the rivers – while reconsidering what they might have looked like during Chinese festivals.

Her works also touch on the issues of race in a painting comprised entirely of text discussing the White Australia policy, set out in red and gold, laying out in strong bold text a defining period in Australian history.

The Celestials is on exhibition at Gallery Pejean, 57 George Street, until April 8.