Chronicler of the Asian-Australian experience
Emil Goh, 1966-2009
30 September 2009
By Benjamin Genocchio and Melissa Chiu
Emil Goh, who began his career as a photographer and video artist, became a designer, writer, publisher, visual artist and one of the founding members of Sydney's pioneering non-profit art space Gallery 4A.
Goh, who has died from a heart attack, initially dedicated himself to creating sensitive photographs reflecting the Asian-Australian experience. His early images often reworked family photographic negatives.
He had his first solo show in Melbourne in 1997, and over the next decade took part in more than 70 exhibitions and projects in Australia, Europe and Asia. Goh was admired by art critics and peers. His warm and gregarious personality, along with a fondness for socialising, won friends everywhere. He was also a tireless promoter of fellow artists and connector of people.
Neither money nor recognition motivated him, and he sold little art. Among the few institutions that own his work in Australia are Artbank, the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, the Pat Corrigan Collection and Parliament House in Canberra, though recognition of his importance has increased over time. One of his early works hangs in the Patrick White meeting room at the Australia Council for the Arts in central Sydney.
Emil Goh, who died at his home in Seoul, aged 43, was born in Malaysia, in the southern state of Johore, the eldest of two sons of Xavier Goh Khen Wah, an electrical engineer, and Sylvia Lee Goh, a prominent Malay painter. He was schooled in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore until 1985, when his parents sent him to university in Australia. He completed an arts degree at Newcastle University before moving to Sydney, determined to become an artist.
Goh graduated from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, in 1997 and that year was a founding member of Gallery 4A, launched by Melissa Chiu and the Asian Australian Artists Association in a one-room space in Chinatown. He organised shows, designed catalogues and helped oversee relocation in 2000 to upscale premises on Hay Street.
He spent the late 1990s in London, where he earned a master of fine arts at Goldsmiths College, University of London, before returning to Sydney. He then spent time in Hong Kong and in 2003 was awarded an Asialink residency in Seoul where he eventually settled. He taught art and design at Korean universities.
Goh was focused on art to the exclusion of his health and personal relationships, about which he rarely spoke. He did, however, have a passion for food and could be relied on to know the best eateries in any city.
Through his curiosity and tireless enthusiasm for art, people, ideas and food, Goh celebrated life with such optimism and wonder that his death shocked all who knew him. He had been in good spirits, and was working on art and design projects, among them design-it-yourself meditation pods.