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May 24 2019

2019 Ramsay Art Prize Awarded To Vincent Namatjira

by Xuan Wei Yap

VINCENT NAMATJIRA is the winner of the second edition of the Ramsay Art Prize. Portrait of the artist by Jackson Lee; courtesy Iwantja Arts, Indulkana, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.

On May 24, the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide, named Indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira as the winner of the AUD 100,000 (USD 68,800) Ramsay Art Prize, a biennial acquisitive award launched by the AGSA in 2017 that recognizes young artists. 

Namatjira was chosen for his acrylic-on-plywood painting Close Contact (2018). The double-sided portrait depicts the artist on one surface and Captain James Cook on the other, alluding to the long shadow of oppression cast by “first contact” between Indigenous Australians and British colonizers. Inspired by the humorous painted boards of characters with holes where tourists can place their heads for a photo, the work is a departure from his well-known, irreverent canvases portraying icons of power, such as Queen Elizabeth II, United States president Donald J. Trump, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. 

VINCENT NAMATJIRA’s Close Contact, 2018, is the winning work of the 2019 Ramsay Art Prize, at the National Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide. Photo by Grant Hancock; courtesy AGSA.
VINCENT NAMATJIRA’s Close Contact, 2018, is the winning work of the 2019 Ramsay Art Prize, at the National Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Adelaide. Photo by Grant Hancock; courtesy AGSA.
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Namatjira was selected from a pool of 23 finalists by an international jury that included guest judge Russell Storer, deputy director of the curatorial and research section at the National Gallery Singapore; contemporary artist Richard Lewer; and Lisa Slade, assistant director of artistic programs at AGSA. Storer remarked: “Vincent’s work stood out for its directness and clarity, but also for its wit and complexity.” 

Finalists of the second edition of the Ramsay Prize include Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Huseyin Sami, Jessica Bradford, and Phuong Ngo. The inaugural winner was Sydney-based multidisciplinary artist Sarah Contos. 

The finalists’ exhibition for this year’s Ramsay Art Prize opens at the AGSA on May 25 and runs to August 25.

Xuan Wei Yap is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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