Museum reimagined for Biological Exuberance

31 March 2022

Queensland Museum’s specimen collection has been reimagined by New Zealand artist Shannon Novak in the form of nine bejewelled holotypes that will be displayed in the Discovery Centre as part of Biological Exuberance – A Make Visible: Queensland Project.

The holotypes are a new addition to the project, which has featured several of Novak’s vivid and uplifting works around the museum since December. These pieces are satellite works to Novak’s contributions to the Gallery of Modern Art for APT10, have a focus on diversity, inclusivity and playful re-interpretations of the natural world.

Shannon Novak’s practice aims to reduce anxiety, depression, and suicide rates for the LGBTQI+ community worldwide, and to create spaces of safety, while supporting recognition and visibility.

Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said he hoped the installations would encourage new perspectives on some of the diverse communities that call Queensland home.

“Shannon’s colourful and graphic installations have drawn on the museum collections to take a fresh look at how we consider gender, identity and self-expression and to celebrate diversity throughout the natural world and in our own human existence,” Dr Thompson said.

“Works can be found across the museum with installations in the museum foyer, Whale Mall, and a trail in the Discovery Centre. I encourage all visitors to take in these installations that have reimagined spaces familiar to museum-goers.”

Novak said he was excited to have his work on display at Queensland Museum as part of his wider Make Visible initiative.

“In developing my ideas, I wanted to focus on the how the museum’s role in telling the changing story of Queensland could create advocacy and visibility for the Rainbow community,” Novak said.

“Using the Museum’s biodiversity collections as inspiration created an incredible opportunity to explore diversity in gender and sex characteristics and help grow a better understanding of diversity found in the Rainbow community – for many of the things for which we face prejudice, are commonplace in the natural world beyond humankind.

“It’s important for LGBTQI+ communities to feel welcomed, safe, and loved. While in some societies our rights improve, this is not the same around the world and rights don’t necessarily equate to inclusivity and acceptance. Make Visible emerged as a project exploring these issues.”

Novak will also deliver a free talk with Craig Middleton from National Museum of Australia on Sunday 3 April entitled Shannon Novak + Queer History. Tickets are free, but bookings are essential at

There is plenty to explore around the museum from the large-scale installations The Modern Family in the Whale Mall and The Rainbow Gene in the entry foyer, which will be on display until 25 April 2022.

The new holotypes will be in display until July 2022 in the Discovery Centre on level 4 of the museum along with a special trail that celebrates the natural world and Reframing Biodiversity - a new look at scientific illustrations from the 18th Century.

Queensland Museum welcomes Rainbow Families, and the wider LGBTQI+ communities, and it committed to being a safe and inclusive place for all Queenslanders and visitors.

Media enquiries

Queensland Museum
Christine Robertson, Senior Media Officer P: 3153 4451 M: 0417 741 710
Kylie Hay, Senior Media Officer P: 3153 4450 M: 0434 565 852

Shannon Novak’s works on show at Queensland Museum includes:


Through these fantastical, jewel-like hexapods, arachnids and more, Novak has reimagined the museum’s specimen collections, as seen throughout the Discovery Centre. Emanating a sense of the unique and magical, and connected to the enduring symbolism of insects through classical texts, these ‘holotypes’ celebrate and acknowledge the preciousness of our own multi-faceted individual expression, and a sense of collective qualities shared across LGBTQIA+ communities.

The Rainbow Gene – Queensland Museum Foyer (8.5 metres x 10 metres)

With a nod to Queensland Museum’s reputation as bastion of scientific knowledge, and with more than just a knowing wink at the ‘is there or isn’t there’ debate associated with the ‘gay gene’, this work is an exemplar of Novak’s continuing practice that fuses together the built environment, ambient light and his striking designs, to create a space of safety and inclusion. Positive and uplifting, the scale and visibility of The Rainbow Gene signals a confident message of welcome and inclusivity to all museum visitors.

The Modern Family – Whale Mall (9 metres x 2 metres)

Comprising two separate works, Novak’s graphic intervention The Parent, the Parent and the Child, playfully reinterprets the whale’s anatomy and familial grouping, reimagines this transient space. Bathing these monarchs of the sea in colourful hues, Novak has created a changed environment that encourages a new and inclusive lens through which to view the family of whales. Through collaboration with composer Jase Ess, the accompanying soundscape entitled Currents (Beauty in Ambiguity), explores the diversity, flow, and beauty of sex characteristics as found in nature. By regarding the difficulty of determining the sex of the humpback whales as something beautiful, Ess and Novak recount, merge, and celebrate their own experiences of ambiguity in gender identity through sound.

Reframing Biodiversity – Discovery Centre

Through subtle and sometimes more obvious digital modification, Reframing Biodiversity sees Novak literally shift these works of antiquity into a more progressive and contemporary frame of reference. While the original and their contemporary versions are works that illustrate the exquisite splendour of the natural world, they also invite a warm and affirmative contemplation of the beauty in human capacity for diversity, individuality and self-expression.

Diversity Trail – Discovery Centre

While biological science continues to expand and evolve, Shannon Novak invites visitors to (re) explore the Discovery Centre through his eyes. Through the special trail selected by Shannon and the museum team, the incredible diversity and variance throughout the natural world offers us a fresh and inclusive perspective on how we might perceive gender roles, reproduction and self-expression in our own human existence. Look for the special decal on drawers and cases throughout the Discovery Centre.


Shannon Novak + Collecting Queer History


Sunday 3 April

Join us for this special hybrid event! First up hear from artist Shannon Novak who will discuss Biological Exuberance and how raising visibility and awareness of LGBTQI+ communities is at the heart of his work, followed by a lively panel discussion with guests who will chat about how Queer histories can, and should, be captured in contemporary museum collections. The event will also be an opportunity for LGBTQI+ community members, and museum supporters to share what Queer histories you think should be in the State Collection – places, events, people or more? Let your voice be heard and be part of this community discussion.

Guests include:

  • Shannon Novak (He/him), artist and Founder of the Safe Space Alliance
  • Craig Middleton (He/him) Senior Curator, Digital Innovation & Strategy at National Museum of Australia and co-author of Queering the Museum

Free. Bookings required.