Koi at Sankei-en 1989

ONUS, Lin (Yorta Yorta)

Registration number



ONUS, Lin (Yorta Yorta)


Koi at Sankei-en

Production date



ink on paper

Dimensions (H x W x D)

47 x 68 cm

Credit line

Purchased 1999
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection
© the artist


Lin Onus, Yorta Yorta, Koi at Sankei-en, fish, 1989


Painter, sculptor and activist Lin Onus (1948–96) was a Yorta Yorta man instrumental in shaping the urban Aboriginal art movement. His father, Bill Onus, founded the Victorian Aboriginal Advancement League and his mother was a communist of Scottish descent, so cultural advocacy and a critical perspective were perhaps in Lin Onus’s DNA. He expressed a vibrant Aboriginal culture through his art, and this placed him centrally in debates concerning the vestiges of colonialism in the arts industry machine, and indeed in Australian history and society more generally.

Onus began his artistic life assisting his father in creating cultural artefacts in Melbourne, before establishing an independent painting practice in the 1970s. A journey to Arnhem Land in 1986, during which he developed a close relationship with cultural custodians Jack Wunuwun and John Bullun Bulun, was pivotal in his outlook and his art. Onus was given permission to depict stories and clan designs, and this led to his highly distinctive visual style, in which he combined photorealistic natural environments with traditional imagery.

The five screen-prints by Lin Onus in the Art and Heritage Collection exemplify this style. This work, however, inverts the relationship of background and foreground style that typifies Onus’s artworks. The realistic fish in the foreground swim over the cultural artefact, their shadows encouraging one to read the strong relationship between natural and cultural worlds. ‘Koi at Sankei-en’, made in 1989, belongs to an edition of 99, and it came into the collection in 1999.