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Celebrations in Adelaide at the end of World War II, August 1945, B 59860, State Library of South Australia
Celebrations in Adelaide at the end of WW II, August 1945, B 59860, State Library of SA
Home » People, Celebrating People

People, Celebrating People

A fascinating and free exhibition of historic and contemporary artworks at the City Library (off Rundle Mall) is captivating audiences of all ages with its overarching festive theme of ‘people celebrating’.

City of Adelaide Curator Polly Dance, in partnership with the Adelaide City Libraries team, put this exhibition together. On Saturday 9 February, Polly will be part of a panel of people – including contributing contemporary artists – discussing the exhibition and it’s themes. Here she shares her insights into what inspired the display and some of the historic items included. The exhibition is open until 24 February 2019.


Be it through food, sport, dance, laughter, ceremony, festivals or events – the act of celebration brings people together. The People, Celebrating People exhibition explores some of the ways this has occurred in Adelaide, in times past and present, through a showcase of historic items from the City of Adelaide Archives collection alongside contemporary artworks by some of Adelaide’s finest artists.

As the exhibition’s curator, it was important to me to include pieces that acknowledged that not all these significant moments originated from purely joyous circumstances. Within the exhibition you can view historical photographs of city celebratory events that marked major moments in global history. One image shows thousands of people gathered out the front of Parliament House on Armistice Day on the 12 November 1918. Jubilant in their celebration of the end of World War I, people blocked the roads and were scaling the walls to climb to the top of the building. Likewise, the collection’s photograph of Victory Day celebrations on 23 August 1945, after World War II, shows crowds congregating throughout the city with victory flags and insatiable smiles.

One of the oldest works in this exhibition represents the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and recognises their important cultural relationship to the land. Unfortunately, the City of Adelaide Civic Collection has only a handful of artworks and books relating to Kaurna culture, but one of these is a framed colour reproduction of an illustration that documented a rare and significant cultural exchange of its time. On 29 June 1885, over 5,000 people gathered at Adelaide Oval to witness the first known public traditional Aboriginal Dance Ceremony. It was reported at the time in the following way: “The men, painted in fantastic fashion with white stripes all over their bodies, went through a pantomimic kangaroo hunt”* .

As a greeting place for Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses and other dignitaries,  the iconic Adelaide Town Hall has hosted all manner of celebrations over the years – from dance balls to dinners. The History Hub, Studio 1 and Innovation Lab are the spots to head inside the City Library to feast your eyes on a wide range of service medals, trophies and awards, Coronation memorabilia, invitation cards, tickets, programs and souvenir booklets. There are also photographs of the city regally decorated for royal visits, Christmas and the pageant, anniversaries and other special events.

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Decorated Adelaide Town Hall, royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of York 1901
Decorated Adelaide Town Hall, royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of York 1901, HP0574, Historical Picture Collection, City of Adelaide Archives

The works within this exhibition are diverse but sub-themes of ‘victory’,’dance + dine’, ‘cheers’, ‘crowned’, ‘ceremony’, ‘service’, ‘memento mori’, ‘achievement’, ‘community’ and ‘otherness’ help to bring the collection together. As a whole, they tell a compelling story of the many and varied ways celebration can take place, whether serious and sombre or joyous and jovial. All are true and valid kinds of celebration and have their place at various times in our lives.

‘Memento mori’ translates to “remember death” and relates to the medieval preoccupation with one’s mortality, often expressed in art through symbolism that reveals the light within the darkness. The City Library’s Studio 2 is the ‘memento mori-themed’ room and consists of Civic Collection artworks that acknowledge the great sacrifice of lives lost. A must-see is South Australian artist CJ Taylor’s vivid contemporary still life photography that explores identity, place and time in the Australian vernacular.

CJ Taylor, Still life with possum, mussels and New Holland Honeyeater, 2011, 75cm x 60cm, CC003136/2, Civic Collection, City of Adelaide Archives
CJ Taylor, Still life with possum, mussels and New Holland Honeyeater, 2011, 75cm x 60cm, CC003136/2, Civic Collection, City of Adelaide Archives

Alongside CJ Taylor’s work is the Framed Slate from Christchurch Cathedral, a Sister City gift to the City of Adelaide to recognise the humanitarian relief work provided in the aftermath of the devastating effects of the 2011 earthquake. Next is the detailed sketch Burial of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Gifted to the City of Adelaide in 1927, it documents the Abbey’s abundant interior, crowded with men, women and children all gathered to honour the life of an unknown soldier.

The ‘People, Celebrating People’ exhibition highlights that people are capable of incredible things and that we all have it within us to come together in times of need, to provide support and community, to connect and share, in both ceremony and celebration. As a place of learning and creativity, a place to engage, explore and be inspired – the City Library is the perfect space to host this display.

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*Author unknown, ‘Aboriginal Corrobboree at Adelaide’, Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, vol. 13, no. 194, 29 June 1885, pp. 97-99.

Click here for opening hours information for all three Adelaide City Libraries.


From 2pm on Saturday 9 February 2019, the City Library will host a facilitated panel discussion about the ‘People, Celebrating People’ exhibition and its themes. Panel guests will include contributing contemporary artists and the Curator. All are welcome to come and hear more!

Polly Dance

Polly Dance

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