Above, from left: Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young, with their winning work Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa (Many spears – Young fella story).
A work speaking directly to the crisis in Australian youth justice systems has won Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art award, the overall prize at the 34th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, announced in Darwin last night.
The multimedia collaborative work by artists from Amata in the South Australian APY Lands, Anwar Young, Frank Young and Unrupa Rhonda Dick, is called Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story) (at left).
“We see many young men from remote communities becoming stuck in a cycle of reoffending and being locked up in juvenile detention centres, like Magill and Don Dale,” say the artists. “We are concerned the whitefella way of locking people up isn’t working.”
Frank Young believes that these young men should be brought back to the country to work with senior men to help look after families and communities.
Unrupa Rhonda Dick together with Anwar Young (portrait below right) and other young men from Amata, have been working with their grandfathers on the Kulata Tjuta project, learning to make kulata (spears) in the traditional way.
The judging panel (curator Emily McDaniel, Director of Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art Chris Saines and artist Regina Wilson) described Kulata Tjuta as “a measured and considered response to an inherently complex and contested subject”:
“The incarceration of young Aboriginal men affects families and entire communities.
“The Kulata (spears) are suspended in a cell-like formation but they also function to protect a young man who looks not to us but to the future. The image is watermarked with cultural designs and the text in language has a sense of urgency and immediacy – words written, erased, edited.
“This work is a solemn and dignified call to action – to bring young Aboriginal men back to culture, language and country.”
The 34th NATSIAAs attracted 300 entries from which were chosen 65 finalists in six categories.
APY Lands artists dominated the winners, taking four of the six prizes. For the judges works in black and white apparently stood out from the overall colourful field. Three of the five category winners are in black and white (or substantially so, in the case of the bark painting). And the other two interestingly work with a reduced palette.
Winner of the Telstra General Painting Award is Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris for Ngura Pilti . The artist, although born in the NT, is a Pitjantjatjara woman working in Kaltjiti (Fregon), SA. The judges saw her painting as “a deeply felt experience of country”:
“Using multiple perspectives, it subtly reveals the underpinning watercourses that trail across the land and give it life. Its mark-making is controlled and precise and accounts for the negative space it generates, which results in a scintillating and translucent pictorial effect.”
Robert Fielding, winner (as he was two years ago) of the Telstra Work on Paper Award for Milkali Kutju– One Blood (left), is another South Australian APY Lands artist, working out of Mimili. His work “deploys the compositional conventions of the political poster”:
“Through the repetitive action of puncturing the paper with a hot wire, light filters through to reveal a succinct and bold statement. The work’s unifying and reconciliatory statement moves past difference and appeals to our common humanity,” say the judges.
The Telstra Bark Painting Award went to Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land, for Lines (below right), “a confident painting by a senior artist”:
“Nyapanyapa allows the material qualities of the natural pigments to emerge, resulting in an alternation of translucency and opacity of the pigment. She expertly works across the uneven terrain of the bark, interpreting each contour as a directive for her gestural mark-making.”
Shirley Macnamara, from far west Queensland, took out the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award, for Nyurruga Muulawaddi.
“Simple in its form but complex in construction, [it] demonstrates Macnamara’s technical mastery over her medium. Each blade of spinifex is engineered precisely, manipulated into place and held under tension, seamless and structured. Deliberately omitting decoration, this object speaks of a mature practice honed by decades of experience.”
Finally, the Telstra Emerging Artist Award went to Betty Muffler, again an artists from the APY Lands, based at Iwantja (Indulkana). Her work Ngangkari Ngura “is comprised of complex interconnected forms that unfurl to reveal linear representations of country”:
“This painting reflects her intimate relationship to place, inspired by her many travels across the landscape as a ngangkari [traditional healer]. For an emerging artist, there is a surprising maturity in the controlled rhythm and pictorial dynamism which has been achieved.”
All category winners receive $5,000. The purse for the overall winner is $50,000.
The work of all 65 finalists is on display at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin until 26 November.
Below: Nyurruga Muulawaddi by Shirley Macnamara.
Below: Ngura Pilti by Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris.
Below: Ngangkari Ngura by Betty Muffler.
– compiled by Kieran Finnane