This curious piece of nineteenth-century Australian furniture dates to the 1880s and is made of cedar and pine. It features a composite of amalgamated design motifs and cultural influences, including an Afghani man, depicted in wood and wearing traditional clothing, as the central support for the table. Arms upright, he holds up the work surface above. The table includes elaborate inlay around the edge with alternating drawers and glass panels containing decorative arrangements of shells and sand. The underside of the table’s lid is decorated with painted flowers and the top surface is a marquetry chessboard.

While it is unclear who made the work, it is in the style of folk art made by German migrants during the nineteenth century in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. The work itself uses a strange and eclectic mix of imagery drawn from Australia’s interior and the ocean’s edge, an Afghani man, probably a reference to the cameleers who worked in central Australia at the time, and shells and sand from the beach.

Installation view: Ways of seeing featuring works by Peter Drew, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2019.

Making Connections - Monga Khan, 1916

In 2016, South Australian artist Peter Drew took to streets across Australia to paste up one thousand posters from his AUSSIE series. Featuring photographic portraits drawn from the National Archives of Australia, Drew’s posters portray individuals who applied for and were granted exemption from the White Australia Policy in the early twentieth century.

Monga Khan, 1916 (2016), for example, depicts the proud profile of a Punjabi man who lived and worked as a hawker – a travelling vendor who supplied vital provisions between metropolitan and regional Victoria. In re-staging the archival portrait, Drew says, “I think my art offers a kind of gentle revenge. These people get to live on with the same images we used to exclude them.”[1]

Drew’s declarative statement, ‘AUSSIE’, subtitles Khan’s image and reimagines him as an Australian folk hero. As an emblematic figure, Khan represents a history of thousands of migrant workers and communities whose overlooked labour and cultural contributions have built contemporary Australia. In pulling Khan’s image and story from historical obscurity into the daily parlance and visual presence of the street, Drew makes use of the quotidian power of shared civic space. “I like to exhibit my art on the street because public space is a great equaliser, and an ancient forum.”[2]

[1] Peter Drew, “About”, accessed 10 August, 2021, https://www.peterdrewarts.com/contact

[2] Peter Drew, “Peter Drew Arts”, May, 2021, video, 1:47, https://www.peterdrewarts.com/

Written by Dr. Belinda Howden, Public Art: Contemporary Art Resource

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 5

The reasons people migrated to Australia and the experiences and contributions of a particular migrant group within a colony(ACHASSK109)

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony (ACHASSK110)

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 6

Stories of groups of people who migrated to Australia since Federation (including from ONE country of the Asia region) and reasons they migrated (ACHASSK136)

  • Barossa Valley, South Australia

    Work table

    c.1880
    On display, Gallery 3

Create a timeline of Australian History highlighting some reasons people migrated to Australia in the 1850s, 1900s compared to 1940s and 50s. Why do you think people migrate today?

Investigate the role of Afghan cameleers who worked in outback Australia from the 1860s to the 1930s, their impact on the development of Australia and their legacy today.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration with Rebecca Evans, Curator of Decorative Arts and Kylie Neagle, Education Coordinator