And the NATSIAA goes to... - Art Collector

Jukuja Dolly Snell, Kurtal. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy: the artist and MAGNT, NT

By Camilla Wagstaff

While every work hanging in Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory as part of this year’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards is goose bump-inducing in its own right, it’s not difficult to see why Jukuja Dolly Snell took out the $50,000 prize this year. Snell’s Kurtal is a powerful expression of the artist’s water story. The work demonstrates her commanding visual language developed since she began painting in the mid 1980s. Snell works with Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency and held her first solo show at Outstation Gallery in Darwin last year.

The judging panel, comprising National Gallery of Victoria director Tony Ellwood, Art Gallery of New South Wales curator of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander art Cara Pinchbeck and 2014 NATSIAA General Painting Award winner Daniel Walbidi, selected
Kurtal from among almost 300 entries and 65 finalists. Pinchbeck comments: “It was a unanimous decision. There were a lot of works that we spoke about obviously, but it was the one we kept coming back to.”

Now in its 32nd year, the NASTIAA is the first and longest running award dedicated to Indigenous artists in Australia. In addition to the overall award, 5 smaller category prizes further recognise diversity and excellence in Indigenous artistic practice.

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Antara (Maku Dreaming). Acrylic on linen. Courtesy: the artist and MAGNT, NT

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani was awarded the 2015 General Painting Award for her arresting large-scale painting that tells the story of the maku (witchetty grub) Dreaming of the Antara region. Betty’s sister Ngupulya Pumani, whose own NATSIAA finalist painting hangs a few metres away from her sibling’s, explains: “It’s my mother’s country, my mothers Dreaming. My mother, she shows us how to get the witchetty grub. We get a stick and hit the water, and the witchetty grubs go everywhere. We eat them for food.” Betty says: “I pass on the Dreaming to my family. My family doing it too. We paint the same stories.” Both Betty and Ngupulya are directors at Mimili Maku Arts, established in 2006. Ngupulya is also chairperson at the centre.

This year’s Bark Painting Award was awarded to Nonggirrnga Marawili. Literally towering above the other finalists,
Lightning in the Rock is a fine example of the large, powerful bark works of the artists working in the Yirrkala region in Arnhem Land. Marawili works with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka art centre and this year she’s held solo shows with Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery and Seva Frangos Art in Perth.

Robert Fielding, Milkali Kutju. Screenprint on fine art paper, edition of 5. Courtesy: the artist and MAGNT, NT

The Work on Paper Award went to Robert Fielding for his new media work Milkali Kutju, which means one blood in Pitjantjatjara language. While seemingly politically charged, Fielding is adamant that his work is not intended to be political at all. He comments: “My work is about forgiveness peace love joy and happiness. My story is not a political one, my story is about how we as individuals are one. We only look at what’s on the surface, what’s below the surface is one blood. We all feel and breathe the same.” Or as the work itself puts it: “You see black, I see red.” Fielding also works with Mimili Maku Arts. He is the second prizewinner this year for the young centre.

In addition to canvases, works on paper and bark paintings hanging on the MAGNT walls, extraordinary sculpture works are also celebrated in the award. Yarrenyty Arltere artist Rhonda Sharpe took out the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D award for her soft sculpture
Rhonda, a brave an honest self-portrait that speaks to inner conflict.

Introduced last year, the Youth award recognises outstanding works by entrants aged 18 to 25, supporting the next generation of Australian Indigenous artists. Josh Muir was the recipient of this year’s award for his confident digital print

The NATSIAA award exhibition is open to the public at MAGNT, Darwin, until 1 November 2015.

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