We Eat We Are


We Eat We Are celebrates food as a form of social sculpture that unites, nourishes and renews. The lives we live through food define our imaginary, making sense of our desires, ideals and practices as a society. Often hidden in plain sight, these are the spaces and time-valued traditions that gurgle in a pot or ripen in the sun. When we eat, we consume glocally: linking into the global and local food webs while revelling in our own sense of place.

Seasonal rhythms, generational knowledge and sensory memories flavour expectations of what it is to live in the Northern Territory. As we eat we embrace the unexpected and the familiar, and plot a vision for our future selves. Do we go out fishing or take a trip to the Woolies deli section? Eat salty plums made from time honoured Asian recipes or eat the wild harvested super food, Kakadu plum? Through our anticipation of taste, ingredients and availability, we creatively imagine and invest in our future identity and wellbeing.

The gastronomically attuned artists in this exhibition represent a cross-section of the Northern Territory’s Top End society embracing cultural diversity and a multiplicity of practices. Reflecting geographical and historical influences from the southern belt of South East Asia to the land and sea country of Indigenous Australia, their personal and collective food journeys are the binding ingredients of We Eat We Are. The migration and translation of social and cultural identifiers associated with the meals we survive and thrive on inform an ever evolving recipe.

We Eat We Are invites audiences to dine on the many flavours, textures and culinary adventures that sustain people living in the Top End. Read the full catalogue here and media release here

This is the second exhibition to be produced as part of the SPARK NT Curator Program, an Artback NT initiative which supports an independent or emerging curator, residing in the Northern Territory, to develop an exhibition project for tour. SPARK NT is designed to foster critical thinking in art and curatorial practice and provide artists from the Territory with opportunities to showcase their work within a curated touring exhibition.

Christine Barzaga

I’ve always liked eating with [my] hands as I learned this way growing up. In Australia, eating with hands you’d get strange looks from others – it would look ‘improper’ – but eating with hands is the best method to eat in my opinion. It’s been a part of my culture that’s been passed down by my ancestors.

Christine Barzaga, 2019

Christine Joy Barzaga, ‘How to Eat Like a True Filipino’, 2018, watercolour, ink, pencil on Arches paper.

Christine Barzaga’s suite of bold and energetic drawings Sining ng Pagkin (The Art of Food), are inspired by a hand drawn recipe book of the same title that she produced in 2017 to celebrate the most famous dishes in Filipino culture. Barzaga’s mum, Norma Barzaga is the central narrator in the work, guiding and instructing with creative and authoritative flourish.

Barzaga is both the participant and the observer, as she takes you on an immersive gastronomical journey of the food stalls, bars and BBQs of the Philippines. Prolifically creative, her often hilarious artworks are filled with familial and cultural innuendos and allusions from visceral Boodle Fights to in-jokes about Filipino meat obsessions.

Siying Zhou

At a dining table, chicken feet divide my friends. They are often, jokingly, used as a test of bravery, a hurdle to qualify ‘Chinese-ness’.

Siying Zhou, 2018

Siying Zhou, ‘Suk My Exotic Fingers’, 2018, bronze castings, wood panelling, found drawer, rhinestones, turntables.

Siying Zhou arrived in Sydney from mainland China as an international student in 2003. Later, while living in Darwin, Zhou became an Australian citizen receiving a gum tree and a legitimising certificate, piquing a deep curiosity about the enigmatic progression of national identity.

In We Eat We Are Zhou plays with ‘Australia-ness’ and ‘Chinese-ness’ in her artworks Sux my exotic fingers and Pie-Pai Act I & II. Delightfully absurd and astute, Zhou captures our national obsession for cooking shows and you-tube recipes by deconstructing the ingredients of the humble Aussie pie and ubiquitous ‘toastie’. This culinary master stroke humorously interrogates the relational frontier that recipes and food culture reveal.

Zhou’s pointed humour in Sux my exotic fingers makes way for an acerbic battleground of difference. Here, the Chinese cuisine icons of chopsticks and chicken feet (fingers) become the weaponry of identity on the playground of multicultural Australia. Chicken feet are an iconic item on the Chinese menu both loved by and repellent to many Australian palates. As a nationally recognised cuisine Zhou questions its fluctuating status as she moves from Chinese to Australian citizen. For Zhou, eating is not simply the act of nourishment – what and how we eat reveals much about who we are and who we would like to be.

Bao Vi Truong

Day by day, we can choose the food or we can be obsessed with the food … we absorb it and reflect upon what feeds us through our daily life.

Bao Vi Truong, 2019

Bao Vi Truong, ‘What is Food?’, (detail) 2019, oil paint on wood panels.

While working as a Grade Two cook for some of Darwin’s most well-known Vietnamese eateries, Taste of Viet and Non La, Bao Vi Truong has had much time to think expansively about the philosophical dimensions of food. Moving between the contrasting communities of Xóm Mó’i, Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Minh City) and Darwin in the Northern Territory, Truong encountered a social and cultural diversity she had not previously experienced. Food and cooking she suggests is more than utilising the appropriate utensils and a well-rehearsed recipe to produce a meal for a hungry customer. Body, mind and spirit all require feeding and our spiritual and emotional lives succour and satiate us.

In her triptych What is food?, Truong aligns the physical, spiritual and emotional referencing a cultural mix of Vietnamese and Western painting. While the graphic clouds and symbology refer to Hàng Trống folk painting, the altarpiece depicts distinctly Darwin characters. Iconic ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’ are constituted from the Darwin familiars ‒ Masked Plover, Agile Wallaby and Saltwater Crocodile. Food for the soul in all its variety and creative glory.

Kaye Brown, Raelene Lampuwatu Kerinauia, Jamice Pungautiji Murray and Michelle Woody

When we go out on country for hunting, I take family – my daughter, my girls, I go out with my aunties too, grandchildren too, developing future generations, especially Sophia, showing her how to go hunting and collect mud mussels. When I sit with my daughter, especially as she’s a young one, I tell her stories, about how important bush tucker is. It’s also a good medicine, how important it is, I tell stories.

Michelle Woody, 2019

Jukwarringa (Mud Mussels) painted by Kaye Brown, Raelene Lampuwatu Kerinauia, Janice Pungautiji Murray and Michelle Woody, 2018, earth pigment on shell. Photographed: by Fiona Morrison

Tiwi artists Kaye Brown, Raelene Lampuwatu Kerinauia, Janice Pungautiji Murray and Michelle Woody live and work on Melville Island. Time spent immersed in the coastal environments of their island home more often than not includes a foraged feast shared with family and community. Shell middens comprised of Jukwarringa (mud mussels), Piranga (long bum), Mirnangini (cockles) and Mirninguwuni or Piliwuni (oyster) reflect a continuous engagement with country. Once cooked on the fire and the flesh consumed, piles of charred shells become the physical remnants of sharing, eating and living, manifest over time, particular to people and place. The painting of mud mussel shells is an acknowledgement and celebration of this essential food resource. The shells are (re)paired after eating and decorated with jilamara (design) using pigments sourced from the earth.

The shells, both charred and painted, are exhibited in conjunction with a soundtrack that reflects the creative journey of their making; the crunching of dry leaves, the squelching of mangroves, bird calls, laughter and storytelling of family and friends, the sound of tapping when opening oyster shells and the sanding of mud mussel surfaces in preparation for jilamara. This is fast food meeting time honoured connection to country.

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda

Balanyaramirr ŋunhi ŋarra miny’tji-yarpum ŋatha malanya ŋunhi maḏayin’miriw, yan gäna ŋatha malanya wakiŋu ŋanapurruŋ Yolŋuw yuṯa miny’tji ŋarrakuway.

Once I started painting food plants without reference to their sacred identity, I had to find a new way to paint.

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda, 2018

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda, ‘Matarawatj II’, earth pigment on board.

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda is a Yolŋu woman living in North East Arnhem Land. She is a senior artist of the Dhuḏi-Djapu clan from Dhuruputjpi who paints her clan’s miny’tji (sacred designs) that depict her Country.

This majestic work, painted on boards that formed a temporary stage for a dance performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2011, depicts Matarawatj the massive floodplain and associated areas between the Koolatong and Baykultji Rivers. Today this area is inaccessible by road and as a result has no permanent population and visitors are infrequent. However, as a child Wirrpanda resided here for extended periods and knows this country intimately. A physical and spiritual mind map, her painting depicts an abundant home and habitat, rich with edible tubers, shrubs, vines and grasses. Included in this immense referencing of country are four dhulmu (billabong). These are rich with water plant foods such as Rakay (water chestnuts), Datham (water lilies) and Bulwutja (water yam). A convex shape at the base represents a dense rainforest lush with Ganguri (yams) and home to a massive shell midden known as Rirrikingu.

Since 2012, Wirrpanda has recorded knowledge of plants eaten and used in her youth. She is in the creative business of recovery and resistance sharing her botanical knowledge of edible and medicinal plants to encourage future generations to recognise the importance of native food sources for environmental sustainability. Plants such as Näṉka-bakarra (billy goat plum) are now being recognised as a superfood with plantations in the USA.

Emma Lupin

The food we eat and how we eat it are tightly intertwined and define identity in an ever-changing society.

Emma Lupin, 2019

Emma Lupin, ‘Water Lilies in Hands’, 2019, digital print on paper.

Emma Lupin came to the Northern Territory from the United Kingdom as a horticulturalist. Lupin became passionately enamoured with the fresh food from the tropical regions and the ecological sophistication of sustainable Indigenous Knowledge Systems. It’s in our Hands is a photographic series which charts the complexity of choice through the migration of food from a raw, endemic source to processed product. In the first set of images Emma differentiates three Vitamin C sources beginning with the exceptionally rich Billy goat plum, or An-morlak in Kundedjnjenghmi and Gundjeihmi, from the Kakadu region and western Arnhem Land. Marketed as the Kakadu plum, Lupin contrasts this native food with introduced Rosella, Hibiscus sabdariffa and a handful of processed vitamin pills, inferring that food grown near us is often our best medicine.

The second set of images depict native waterlillies or Wayuk/Karwarr in Kundjeyymi, Kakadu region (Nymphae violaceae), introduced chillies, scorpion variety (Capsicum sp.) and sugared jelly snakes providing another trio of contrasts reflecting the fate of our edible history and food futures. This series alludes to the complex multiplicity of changes in food consumption within the north of Australia (and particularly the Northern Territory). Sources of the food and migration of people and food, are inevitably intertwined with the eventual influx of commercialisation of food and impacts of colonisation.


About the SPARK NT Curator

Sarah Pirrie is a Darwin-based educator, artist and curator. She works across a conceptual, site-responsive and often collaborative art practice that incorporates drawing, sculpture, installation, events and public interventions. Pirrie’s work has referenced a range of social and environmental issues and is often shaped by local activity and phenomena. She is a Visual Arts lecturer at Charles Darwin University and SPARK NT Curator with Artback NT.

Sarah Pirrie has exhibited extensively in solo and group gallery exhibitions in Australia since 1995 including solo exhibitions ‘Terraforming’, Nomad Gallery 2014; ‘Runoff’, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 2012; ‘Names on Trees (NOT Project)’ a Darwin Festival Events, Jingili Watergardens, 2011.

Pirrie has contributed to a number of group exhibitions including ‘SECRET WORLD: Carnivorous plants of the Howard sand sheets’, Nomad Gallery, 2015; ‘135th Meridian East’ curated by André Lawrence, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, 2014; ‘Botanica & Botanica 2’ curated by Cath Bowdler, Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre and Chan Contemporary Art Space, 2014; ‘Made to Last- the conservation of art’ curated by Sherryn Vardy, Charles Darwin University Art Gallery, 2014; ‘Art or Cunning?’ curated by Alice Buscombe, Watch this Space, 2013; ‘Art on Wheels’ curated by Siying Zhou throughout Darwin City, 2012; ‘Cuttings’ curated by Rosemary Joy, Linden Contemporary Art Space, 2011.

A number of collaborations commenced with the establishment of Aphids in 1994. Since then, Pirrie has worked on many inter-arts projects including ‘Temporary Territory’ a Darwin Festival Event, 2014 collaborating with Simon Cooper and Jakarta based arts collective, Ruangrupa; ‘Hidden/Pulse Disturbance’ by Stray (collaborative team of Sarah Pirrie and Natasha Anderson), Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 2013; ’The States’, three day performance/installation with composer Erik Griswold and author Craig Foltz, Judith Wright Centre, 2009; ‘Revelations’, multimedia performance/installation with Natasha Anderson, Robin Fox, Elizabeth Parsons and Erkki Veltheim, Organs of the Goldfields Festival, 2003; ‘Permanent Transit’ collaboration with composer Erik Griswold and author Craig Foltz, PATU Studio, University of Adelaide, 2002;’Other Planes’, collaborative with Erik Griswold for the Sydney Spring Festival at The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 2001.

In 2017 Pirrie opened a new venue in Darwin that focusses on curated and creative presentations of contemporary art. Pirrie Space is a private gallery that also facilitates residencies and publications, and sees itself as a home for artists to test new ideas and for interdisciplinary conversation and experimentation.


Story Larder

Warung street stalls are the life of Indonesian food culture and are demarcated by colourful banners advertising pictographic menus which delineate the restaurant from the busy road providing a dining area for customers. In homage to Warung and in the spirit of communal sharing and exchange, We Eat We Are incorporates a Story Larder where audience members are invited to participate in communal activities that contribute to an ever expanding visual and verbal foodie narrative as the exhibition travels. Warung food stall banners will be used to signal a place for creative participation.

Find out what is on the menu at the STORY LARDER





Harrison making a Foodie Flip Book, Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre, Katherine, 2019.

Your feedback

Your feedback is important, our survey only takes 2.5 minutes to complete, tell us what you think!


Northern Centre for Contemporary Art

Darwin, Northern Territory
to start

Araluen Arts Centre

Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre

Katherine, Northern Territory


Jo Foster and Neridah Stockley

Visual Arts Development and Touring Managers

PO Box 4582
Alice Springs, NT 0871


08 8953 5941