Emerging WA Aboriginal artist takes out John Fries Award 2015 - Art Collector

Ben Ward, Our Country, 2015. Natural ochre on plywood, 122 x 240cm. © Ben Ward/Licensed by Viscopy

By Emily Cones-Browne

Remote Western Australian Aboriginal artist Ben Ward has won the John Fries Award for 2015.

The first Aboriginal artist to take out the $10,000 award, Ward’s winning painting Our Country is the largest in a series of 18 paintings that signify the landscape as it was before the Lake Argyle Dam, Western Austrlaia’s largest artificial lake that was constructed near Kununurra in the early 1970s.

“…all that’s under water now, and that’s what I paint. Everything that’s underwater, I remember every bit of it,” says the artist of the work.

“I am very pleased I have won the John Fries Award. It makes me feel proud and makes me feel good that I am working in a good art school and shows that I can produce some good art … The message I would like to give to the people of the community is don't lose the vision of your country.”

Oliver Watts, John Fries Award curator, says Ward’s work is not only beautiful but culturally important: “His style is about finding ways to connect to younger generations as a way of preserving the identity and heritage of his home,” he says.

“Ben’s work is a way of reconciling and remembering the quite violent appropriation of Miriwoong land. Through his paintings, he sets out to create a sense of community and the shared custodianship of the land and the language to represent it.”

The John Fries Award 2015 Exhibition is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm at UNSW Galleries at UNSW Art & Design until Saturday 10 October 2015.

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