Charles Darwin and The Art of Evolution

Conference, 9-11 September 2010 Art Gallery of New South Wales

Patricia Piccinini, 'Psychotourism', 1996. Viktoria Marinov Bequest Fund 1999 © the artist, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Conference presented by the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts, the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand (NSW Chapter) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in association with National Institute of Dramatic Art.

During Charles Darwin’s five-year round-the-world voyage, he surveyed the fauna and flora of many countries, particularly in South America and Australia. He was, in fact, the first British scientist to study a platypus in its natural environment – a creek at Bathurst. These observations formed the basis for his theory of evolution by natural selection. From publication of The Origin of Species, most intellectual disciplines have been transformed by his theories of evolution. This is most potently revealed by visual cultures in the form of art, anthropological, medical, scientific and popular press imagery, as will be demonstrated by this conference.

Charles Darwin and the Art of Evolution will explore the impact of Charles Darwin’s theories upon art and other visual cultures and the ways they, in turn, illuminate intriguing dimensions of his theories. Since Darwin sailed into Sydney Harbour on 12 January 1836, this conference will begin by exploring Charles Darwin’s ventures in Sydney Cove through art, his contact with the Indigenous people of New South Wales and his collection of 92 Australian species. Through visual cultures, it will examine the subsequent impact of Darwinist theories upon Australian Indigenous people, and the global repercussions of his theory of ‘sexual selection’ upon biocultures and eugenics. It will investigate Darwin’s research, with the aid of painters, printers and photographers, into the expression of emotion shared by humans and animals, particularly simians. It will also consider the legacy of Darwin’s ideas for Australian contemporary artists.

This conference will be launched on Thursday evening, 9 September, with a performed reading of Justin Fleming’s provocative new play, Origin, directed by Wayne Harrison, and a keynote address from Phillip Prodger.

Keynote speakers

‘Darwin’s sexual selection and the art of the jealous male’ – Barbara Larson, University of West Florida(Author of The dark side of nature: science, society and the fantastic in the work of Odilon Redon, 2005 and co-editor with Fae Brauer, The art of evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms and visual culture, 2009.)

‘Darwin’s camera: how photography met evolution’ – Phillip Prodger, Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts (Darwin’s camera: art and photography in the theory of evolution, 2009.)

‘The Darwinian screen: the Hollywood musical as Darwinian mating game’ – Barbara Creed, University of Melbourne (Darwin’s screens: evolutionary aesthetics, time and sexual display in the cinema, 2009.)


  • Charles Darwin in Sydney Cove
  • Darwin, Darwinisms and Australian Indigenous people
  • Sexual selection, eugenics and the Darwinian body
  • Capturing the expression of emotions in man, woman and animals
  • Darwin, simians and the gorilla wars
  • Charles Darwin and Australian contemporary artists


Full registration (Thursday evening, Friday, Saturday)

  • Earlybird (book before 19 August) $160
  • AAANZ or Art Gallery of NSW member $180
  • Non-member $200
  • Student/unwaged $80

Single day

  • AAANZ or Art Gallery of NSW member $100
  • Non-member $120
  • Student/unwaged $40
  • Thursday evening only $25 (keynote, play and reception)

Bookings:  Tel (02) 9225 1878 or book online at the AGNSW website or download the flyer (pdf) with booking form and mail your registration with a cheque.

Full program coming soon.