A Melbourne-based artist of Chinese heritage, Eugenia Lim describes herself as a child of ‘diaspora’, a phenomenon describing people who have scattered from their country of origin, and often don’t feel at home in either place.

Despite being born in Australia and only having visited China for the first time in 2016, Eugenia has experienced a gamut of skin-deep discrimination, including being told on occasion that she ‘speaks English really well’. It is this lived experience of insidious racism that fuels her art practice. By exploring and interrogating these cultural tensions, Eugenia imagines a world where pluralism and empathy is the common ground, a place where people are curious about each other instead of afraid.

Working across video, performance and installation, Eugenia uses personas as a vehicle to explore alienation and belonging, investigating how nationalism and stereotypes are formed. Eugenia exhibits widely, both locally and internationally. She was the founding editor of Assemble Papers and the founding co-director of Channels: The Australian Video Art Festival.

Eugenia’s work will be exhibited in Moving Nations.

Photo by Georgia Nowak. 


   hy did you decide to become an artist? Was it a path for you from a young age? 

It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I’m someone who is quite a generalist – curious about everything and a ‘jack of all trades’ (master of none!). There are pockets of creativity in my family but as a kid I wasn’t exposed to art. As the child of a Chinese tiger mum and a super-traditional dad, art wasn’t exactly seen as a viable career path (arguably, it still isn’t!). But growing up, I remember these reproductions of classic Australian landscape paintings hanging in our immigrant household – works like Tom Robert’s Shearing the Rams (1890). Maybe this archetypal vision of Australia had an early impact on me in all its foreignness.

Your work explores cultural stereotypes, identity and nationalism. Why are you interested in this? Ultimately, what message are you hoping the audience will take away from your work?   

My work draws from my own cultural heritage – it comes from a specific and personal place to explore wider questions and tensions that all human beings face when they brush up against other human beings. These tensions have always existed but right now, as our world becomes increasingly globalised, connected and polarised – they are more pronounced than ever and in need of unpacking. As a second-generation Australian, my parents migrated here from Singapore during the White Australia Policy (thanks to the Columbo Plan which was a Commonwealth scholarship program) and they experienced endemic racism and orientalism in a remote QLD town in those early years. A generation later in Melbourne, I mostly skipped that – but I have also grown up between two cultures as a child of diaspora and never really felt at home in any one country.

This feeling of in-betweenness has become something that fuels my work – in pluralism, uncertainty and in confounding expectations there is the possibility for cultural shifts and empathy. Because of my appearance, I will be forever-bound to China – a ‘motherland’ I only visited for the first time last year. Being judged on what is skin-deep or surface used to give me the shits – like when people would tell me my ‘English is good’ (ha! I’m a monolingual Australian). But over the past years of performing in my work, I’ve come to thrive on using my skin as a screen or mask – a surface that both thwarts easy definition and reveals the complexity of history, culture and identity. Nationalism and stereotypes offer me a powerful existing language to break apart and hopefully to explode. Ultimately, my aim is to insert and claim space and territory for marginal identities within the mainstream, using my own experience and perspective as a feminist Asian-Australian. Ultimately I hope that in some way, my work will help my audience encounter other people – no matter how ‘foreign’ in terms of gender, sexuality, race, religion or politics – as fellow human beings and citizens of the world. Donald Trump though is in his own category.

“Ultimately I hope that in some way, my work will help my audience encounter other people – no matter how ‘foreign’ in terms of gender, sexuality, race, religion or politics – as fellow human beings and citizens of the world.”

Artificial Islands (Interior Archipelago), Performance/installation at Firstdraft Sydney. Dimensions: 2700mm x 2700mm x 100mm, Materials: Sand, plastic, gold emergency blanket, bamboo, 2017. Image by Catherine McElhone and courtesy of the Artist.


  o you think that in some way that cultural stereotypes could be an important and inevitable part of human nature, a tool to help us to understand each other?  I think that cultural stereotypes are an existing language – problematic yet ripe for intervention and subversion. I don’t think cultural stereotypes are about ‘understanding’. Rather, I think stereotypes are about the lack of understanding/empathy for the unknown. One individual cannot be the archetype for a whole race or culture, yet stereotypical thinking perpetuates this racist idea.


In your opinion, how does Australia take steps to becoming a more culturally accepting country? Is this something in the realm of government policy, high school education or does it start at a family level?  
It is something we need to push for at every level and we certainly can’t wait for our politicians to lead the way. Australia has a brutal and racist past that continues on into the present day in terms of the subjugation of our Indigenous peoples and the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers – a border-panic terra nullius colonial mentality we keep perpetuating. We can’t run from this but we can deal and try to move forward in the present and future by talking and educating our kids about it in our schools, homes and public life. As a parent myself, I’m so aware that teaching empathy and respect for people and planet is the most important lesson I can impart everyday. Of course as an artist, I am an idealist. I make art because I believe it offers the space and possibility to change the way we see ourselves in the world. So in making art and showing it in many varied contexts (including in the public realm, to the widest possible audiences), I believe art can have a social purpose and that’s something I’m interested in continuing to pursue in my work.


On your website, I read that your performance work ‘reflects the push-pull between Australian and Asian, the mono and the multi-cultural.’  Can you expand on this?
Sure. I guess it stems from what I said earlier, about me using my specific cultural heritage and perspective – my personal experience – as the vehicle to explore stories or questions that are important for almost all of us living in this era of globalisation. What does local, national and cultural identity look like in our time of on the one hand – unprecedented global migration flows, urbanisation, refugee crisis, climate change and globalisation – and on the other, Trump’s economic nationalism and ‘America First’, Brexit and Pauline Hanson? I think the election of Trump, the Brexit vote and the resurgent popularity of Hanson speaks globally of nation-states whose populations feel disenfranchised, unrepresented or left behind by globalisation. In my work I strive to put forward a vision of a world where pluralism is the common ground – where local, national and multicultural identities coexist within globalisation – but individuals are not assimilated or swallowed up by a white or Eurocentric majority.  Some of the best feedback I ever received for my work was from an older woman of Anglo-Australian descent who said that in watching ‘Yellow Peril’, she could consider history as a narrative in which what is left out is as telling as what is left in. It made her perceive Australian ‘history’ in a new way, through Asian eyes.

“Of course as an artist, I am an idealist. I make art because I believe it offers the space and possibility to change the way we see ourselves in the world.”


From left: Narcissus, 90 min performance, live feed, Wii controller, laptop and monitor. Collaborators: Helen Grogan (dramaturgy), Casey Rice (tech), Annabel Lacroix (KINGS). Photos: Annabel Lacroix, Rachel Feery and Eugenia Lim, 2012. Shelter, Performance, Dimensions and materials varied, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberley and courtesy of the Artist. 



ou are creating a video work called The Australian Ugliness about Australian identity and culture through its architecture and built environment. What drew you to this topic? What specifically about Australia’s architecture and built environment are you looking at?

My video work has always been shot on location and responded, maybe intuitively rather than intellectually, to the built environment, but I’m a late bloomer on architecture. I edited a magazine for four years (Assemble Papers) and through it, I sort of self-taught myself about architecture and design and what I do and don’t like. I became interested in the architect Robin Boyd, not only in his built work, but as an outspoken public intellectual. He was really forthright on the Australian identity and what the design, architecture and culture of the day said about its deficiencies, WASPishness and underlying racism and mediocrity. His acerbic text The Australian Ugliness (1960) talked about ‘featurism’ as an aesthetic and ethical gap in the Australian psyche. Through practices like Ashton Raggatt Mcdougall (ARM) and Edmond and Corrigan, Australia had a fiercely intellectual culture of debate in the 70s-early 2000s that kind of rallied against Boyd’s ideas (but were indebted to his legacy) – but I wonder who the 21st century Boyd is? My work will extend Boyd’s line of enquiry into the present day to see what has changed and what remains the same. As a Melburnian, I have grown up in a city that prides itself on its design culture and unique architecture – and there’s a lot I love and hate about its built environment! My ambassador character will roam through some of the cities of Australia a la Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) inserting an Asian and female perspective into its architecture and streets – which still are mostly designed by old(er) white men. I guess I’m basically writing myself into the landscape to reflect an Australia of colour, Asianness, performativity, playfulness and non-maleness.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?   You can do it.

Oasis, Video, lightboxes, Collaborators: Yumi Umiumare (performer), Dan West (sound), Paul Philipson and Alice Glenn (camera), Kat Chan (costume), 2011. Photo courtesy of the Artist.


Favourite Book?  The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon

Favourite Film?  A tie between Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) and Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002)

Favourite Band / Musician? Bjork

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?   A nuisance

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Women (or female-identifying people) would run the world