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HomeIssue 11Desert artists triumph at ‘Telstras’

Desert artists triumph at ‘Telstras’

p2261-2015-NATSIAA-win-workDesert artists have triumphed in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, announced in Darwin last night. The awards are in their 32nd year.
The winner is Great Sandy Desert artist Jukuja Dolly Snell (pictured at bottom), now in her eighties. Her work, at left, bears the name of her birthplace, Kurtal: “That’s my Kurtal, now! As long as I’ve been born there. That one, Kurtal. Not from another jila [waterhole], no! One jila,” she said.
It shows her country, its spirits and stories, the black and yellow depicting body paint used when dancing for rain. The white stripes represent the small clouds that appear in the sky before rain.
Judges of the awards this year were WA artist Daniel Walbidi, 2014 winner of the Telstra General Painting 
Award; Tony Ellwood, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria; and Cara Pinchbeck, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
They described the “powerful gestural marks” of Jukuka’s work, their “strong and vibrant colour”, employed alongside “watery translucent passages”.
“Adding to the impact of this work is its imposing scale,” they said.
Jukuja triumphed in a field of 65 finalists from 290 entries. She will receive $50,000 in prize money.
Other desert artists won in three out of the five categories, awarded purses of $5000.
Betty Kuntiwa Pumani from Mimili in the APY Lands won the Telstra General Painting Award for her work Antara (Maku Dreaming), below right.
p2261-2015-NATSIAA-Pumani“The intricacy of the mark making in this work is very commanding,” the judges said. “Betty has a unique way of mapping out detail, and the introduction of white sections creates a bold and high contrast composition.”
For the compelling story behind Pumani’s works about Antara, see our past report from Desert Mob 2013.
The Telstra Work on Paper was awarded to Robert Fielding, also from Mimili, for his work Milkali Kutju (see bottom), which means ‘One Blood’ in Pitjantjatjara. The work responds to the high levels of racism the artist experienced growing up in Port Augusta.
It reads, “You see black, I see red”. The “I see red” carries the double connotation of anger and of the colour of blood common to all people. As Fielding say in his artist’s statement: “Forget the colour of our skin, it is all the same colour underneath.”
p2261-2015-NATSIAA-RhondaAnd for the second time, Rhonda Sharpe from Larapinta Town Camp in Alice Springs has won the Wandjuk Marika Memorial Three-Dimensional Award. While her work Rhonda (left) is “seemingly playful”, the judges described it as an “extremely brave and honest work that talks about personal conflict”.
“That’s me,” says the artist. “Really I only have one head, but sometimes I think it’s two heads sitting on my shoulders. One head happy, the other head tells me… go to town and drink! When I drink I’m happy then lonely. I wake up, clean my house and try to find that other head that keeps me happy.”
The Telstra Bark Painting Award went to Nonggirrnga Marawili from Yirrkala in the Northern Territory for Lightning in the Rock. The work shows the sanctifying words being spat across the sky in lightning form, lightning’s sacred power, as it hits the sea spray rising from the rock.
“This work has a powerful presence with an imposing scale,” the judges said. “The surface quality has a strong contrast which includes the luminous black background and matt white central forms depicting rocks and lightning. There is a confidence in the overall simplicity and use of negative space.
The Telstra Youth Award, introduced last year, is awarded to 23-year-old Josh Muir from Ballarat in Victoria. The young artist has Gunditjamara / Yorta Yorta heritage. He took to contemporary street art as a kid, inspired by the colour contrasts and its place in the public arena for everyone to enjoy. His winning work, Buninyong, is a digital print, depicting a history of Buninyong, a town located just outside of Ballarat.
“This work conveys a confident graphic quality that borrows its style from both street and popular culture, “ said the judges. “Josh is a bold colourist and with a unique perspective.”
The Telstra NATSIAA is also supported by the Northern Territory Government and the Australia Council for the Arts.


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