UniSA graduate exploring identity through art

Derek Sargent – 2016 Samstag Scholar

Through creative multi-media forms including moving image, installation, photography and sculpture, multi-disciplinary artist and UniSA graduate Derek Sargent explores themes of young adolescent sexuality and identity in Western society.

Derek is a recipient of the 2016 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship and was the winner of the 2013 Constance Gordon-Johnson Sculpture and Installation prize.

After receiving a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Specialisation Sculpture) from the South Australian School of Art in 2012, Derek graduated with first class honours in 2013.

But despite having his work exhibited nationally, Derek did not always plan on becoming an artist.

“I never did art in high school and didn’t start art school until my mid-20s,” Derek says.

“I think I’ve always been a creative person but it wasn’t until I went to art school that I found a way to channel that creativity – I went because I was interested in photography but once I got there an entirely different world that I didn’t know existed opened up.”

Derek’s practice, which combines personal ethnography, research from queer theorists and the history of homosexuality in Western society, focuses on how popular culture reinforces standard gender and sexual roles.

The term 'queer' now represents a cross section of marginalised self-identifications, yet it still remains unaligned to a specific identity. The ‘product’ of this contextualisation of queer culture is an amalgamation of gender, identity, and homosexual studies that emphasises the incompatibilities between these theories and heterosexuality in current society. You can read more about this theory on the Samstag Museum website.

“The lack of specific imagery and representation in mainstream media available to queer adolescent boys is what drives my work and is a platform for engaging in the underlying fear of adolescent sexuality in our culture," Derek says.

“I work mainly with popular culture as a source material and I’m fascinated when something queer infiltrates it – I spend a lot of time trawling the internet and it’s always exciting to find something from the past that breaks the heteronormative narrative.” (Heteronormative—a belief in people falling into distinct genders that align with ‘natural’ biological roles in sexuality and identity)

Former Co-Director of the Adelaide FELTspace, a nationally recognised artist-run initiative, Derek has had his work exhibited across the country, including at the National Graduate Exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, which he says has been one of his greatest achievements as an artist.

As one of the recipients of the 2016 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Arts Scholarship, Derek will be able to further his visual arts study and continue to explore sexuality and identity within the formative years of adolescent development on an international scale.

The scholarship gives the winner a tax-exempt payment equivalent to US$45,000 for 12 months of overseas study plus return airfares and institutional fees.

“The Samstag Scholarship is a massive opportunity to further my career, to be able to study and create alongside other artists with similar interests and goals and to get exposure to the international art world,” says Derek.

“I have been lucky enough to have so many supportive teachers at UniSA who inspired and motivated me, and art school gave me the opportunity to meet many like-minded people and make connections that will last a lifetime.”

Derek says involvement and experience are vital for new graduates and artists who want to make their mark in the art world, as he says it can be hard to keep up the momentum after leaving school.

“Self-discipline and self-motivation are important, so you should get involved as much as possible: exhibit, volunteer and go to openings.

“Make opportunities happen, don’t wait for them to come along – just go for it.”

On Thursdays from 5pm, the West End precinct comes alive with a calendar of events for ART AFTER DARK West End, proudly supported by principal partner Palladium on Light. The doors are open until late, with exhibitions, films, music, talks, food, beer and wine, workshops and more.

Three Samstag Museum exhibitions you can currently experience are:

We looking forward to seeing you here in the West End.

Stephen Dametto

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