Portrait exhibition honours Aboriginal leader

A new portrait has been unveiled in the Barr Smith Library of Uncle Rodney (Rod) O’Brien, respected Kaurna Elder and Cultural Advisor at the University of Adelaide.

Image shows Uncle Rod and his portrait

Uncle Rod stands with his portrait: Uncle Rodney O’Brien, Kaurna Elder (2021) by Thomas Readett, Ngarrindjeri/Arrernte people. University of Adelaide Library (A.VA.2022.1031)

Displayed for the first time, the portrait of Uncle Rod is the centrepiece of the Face to Face: Embracing Portraiture exhibition. The portrait captures Uncle Rod standing next to the Wangu Pole sculpture at the Kaurna Learning Circle, on the University’s North Terrace campus.

The Face to Face exhibition, now open to the public, also includes key highlights from the University’s Visual Art Collection. Since its foundation in 1874, the University has acquired artworks through commission, purchase and generous donation. The purpose of the Face to Face exhibition is to offer a rare opportunity to view these artworks side by side in a gallery setting. Many of the artworks on display usually hang in separate buildings, with public access only on special occasions. The artworks on display include many acclaimed Australian artists such as Robert Hannaford, Anna Platten, Judy Cassab and Ruth Tuck.

Described as a cultural mirror, portraits are where art, identity and history collide. Within Face to Face a mirror is held up to our past and an opportunity is presented to consider the future together.


Portrait of Mary O'Kane

Professor Mary O’Kane by Anna Platten (2000), oil on linen, University of Adelaide Library (A.VA.2006.543)

Researcher Stories

The exhibition showcases the work of a number of academics on research featuring the human face. 

The work of Dr Dana Michalski, for example, improves child facial recognition technology. Dr Michalski's work has helped to combat serious crimes again children, including child trafficking, abductions and missing persons. Test your own skills in facial recognition through her inclusions in the exhibition.

The Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) showcases unique portraits created by a robot. The UR5 robot arm, nicknamed URSULA, was directed by an algorithm to create the artworks on display.

Partnering with Dr Kim Barbour, Face to Face also dives deeper into the connections between portraits and selfies. The exhibition includes a photo opportunity to snap a selfie inside one of the most engaging portraits on display, Anna Platten’s portrait of Mary O’Kane. 

True crime fans will be fascinated by developments on the infamous Somerton Man case. Professor Derek Abbott, a world-leading expert in the case, has lent insight into what the unidentified man could have looked like when alive.

For full exhibition details, see the Face to Face exhibition webpage.

Press release detailing the unveiling of the portrait of Uncle Rodney O'Brien, Kaurna elder is available through the University of Adelaide newsroom.

Tagged in exhibition, national reconciliation week, portraits, AIML, HMS, ABLE, SET