Rich explorations of country and culture are set to be unveiled, showcasing a series of award-winning Indigenous artworks.
Presented by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory late on Friday, the 2021 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards recognise artistic excellence across seven categories.
A panel of three judges sifted through almost 250 applications to select 65 finalists whose works will be on display at the gallery from Saturday until February 6, and also online at www.natsiaa.com.au
Winner of the main award, worth $50,000, is West Australian artist Timo Hogan for his acrylic on canvas, Lake Baker.
Two metres tall and almost three metres wide, the black, white and cream painting is a partial representation of the artist’s father’s Country.
Museum and art gallery curator Rebekah Raymond described Hogan’s canvas as “a masterwork”.
“He tells the story of Lake Baker with strength and pride as custodian of this place,” Raymond said.
“He’s a young artist, only 48, but he paints with a confidence and skill beyond his years.”
Hogan said he was happy to win the award.
“It makes me feel strong inside. Painting is important for Anangu (Aboriginal people) to tell their stories.”
Hogan’s painting details the Tjukurpa, or ancestral creation story, “within the landscape and the inhabitants who made it”, explains Raymond.
“In this representation of the Wati Kutjara Tjukurpa (Two men creation line), the men watch carefully as the powerful Wanampi (water serpent) departs his home and skirts the edge of the lake,” she said.
Lake Baker is considered a sacred place, and Hogan was careful with what he shared when painting.
“My father showed me the Tjukurpa when I was a boy,” he said. “It’s got a big story but I can’t tell all of it, miilmiilpa (highly sacred), only the front part.”
Hogan has been a finalist for three years running – 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Museum and art gallery director Marcus Schutenko said the Pitjantjatjara artist’s signature style and use of space upends perceptions of Aboriginal art.
“Visitors to the exhibition … can see how this year’s winners are the barometer for high-calibre contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art,” he said.
Hogan shared the spotlight with six other category winners, each of whom was awarded $5000.
Bugai Whyoulter from Kunawarritji in Western Australia took out the General Painting Award for Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25).
Raymond praised the “quiet and thoughtful” acrylic on canvas.
“Bugai is an elder and senior artist who walked up and down the Canning Stock Route as a child,” the curator said.
“She has a deep familiarity with what she’s painting and there’s a (sense of) intuition to the way she’s painted this piece. The visible brushstrokes are expressive and loose.”
The Bark Painting Award was given to Dhambit Munungurr from Gunyunara in the Northern Territory for her acrylic on stringybark, Bees at Gangan.
“Dhambit is innovating bark painting through her palette and the extraordinary scale she paints at,” Raymond said of the 243cm x 130cm work.
Following a car accident in the mid-2000s, the artist was left in a wheelchair and lost the use of her right hand, so she was unable to grind the ochre pigments she had previously been using. So the elders of the art centre in her local community at Yirrkala in eastern Arnhem Land authorised her to use acrylic paint instead.
“Since then she’s selected a restricted palette of blue, white and black, and there’s something electric about the way she paints,” Raymond said.
The Works on Paper Award was posthumously bestowed on the family of Ms M Wirrpanda from Yirrkala in the Northern Territory for a suite of 70 drawings of her family collecting shellfish among mangroves.
The Yirrkala elder died earlier this year.
“This work has such beautiful energy and I’m always noticing something new about it,” Raymond said of the grid-like display of drawings. “It’s a piece you want to spend time with.”
The Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award was shared by Hubert Pareroultja and Mervyn Rubuntja from Alice Springs for their collaborative three-panel watercolour work, Through the Veil of Time, which depicts the MacDonnell Ranges.
“This painting is significant because it’s two senior men who are carrying on the legacy of the Hermannsburg School, made famous by Albert Namatjira. What we see is an amazing blend of their signature styles on panels of silkscreen mesh.”
Rubuntja, who is known for his bold lines and deep saturation of the colour, painted the central panel, while Pareroultja, whose approach is more finely detailed and palette more restrained, painted the two side panels.
Pedro Wonaeamirri from Milikapiti in the Tiwi Islands won the multimedia award with Jilarti (the Brolga song), which he performed live for judges while decorated with an assortment of cultural ornaments.
The ornaments are traditionally worn during Tiwi mourning ceremonies and comprise a pimirtiki (feather head piece), imeuja (false beard), tokwayinga (feather ball), tjimirrikamarka (fighting stick) and tunga (folded bark bag).
“Pedro is fantastic at thinking about how to share Tiwi culture in innovative ways,” Raymond said. “Accompanying the display of ornaments in the gallery is a video of that performance.”
The Emerging Artist Award went to Kyra Mancktelow from Logan in Queensland for her complex work, Moongalba 11.
First, the artist hand-made school uniforms for a boy and a girl using tarleton, a print-making fabric traditionally used to wipe away colour from an etching plate.
“I chose this material because it represents (the) attempt of assimilation (to take away) identity, culture, traditions,” Mancktelow said.
She then dipped the uniforms in ink, placed them on paper and ran them through a printing press to create a spectral impression of the garments on paper.
“Instead of using this material to take away colour, I rub colour back into the uniforms.”
Mancktelow based her uniforms on those worn by Indigenous schoolchildren at Myora Mission in Moongalba on Stradbroke Island, which ran from 1892 to 1943.
In this way, her work pays tribute to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and their families who were forcibly relocated to missions during the 19th and 20th centuries.