Aug 12 2014

Tony Albert Wins Prestigious Telstra Award For Indigenous Art

by Nicole Ching

Portrait of Tony Albert. Courtesy Greg Piper and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.

Following his win of the 2014 Basil Sellers Art Prize two weeks ago, for Once Upon A Time, for which he received AUD 100,000 (USD 92,780), Sydney artist Tony Albert makes news again by winning the Telstra Award on August 8.

We Can Be Heroes (2013–14) was the winning work for the Telstra Award, short for The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, for which he was awarded AUD 50,000 (USD 46,390). This year marks the 31st anniversary of the award, which was founded to both recognize indigenous artists and to promote their works to a wider audience.

Influenced heavily by the late Aboriginal artist Gordon Bennett (1955–2014), racism is a theme that endures throughout Albert’s oeuvre, as he navigates the stereotyping and discrimination that affects Aboriginal culture. For his winning work for the Basil Sellers Art Prize, he was praised for his criticism of racism within sports; and for his submission for the Telstra Award, he shows similar adeptness at exploring this compelling topic.

We Can Be Heroes was inspired by the shooting of two Aboriginal teenagers by police in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2012, which many alleged was racially motivated. Albert’s work was influenced by his witnessing of a group of Aboriginal youths at a protest, who were friends with those injured in the incident. They arrived with painted red targets on their chests, and their boldness struck Albert so much so that he photographed 20 men, including himself, with red targets on their chest in similar defiance. Each symbol was deliberately altered as confirmation that, although they are all targeted, this fact is not a binding facet of each person’s character. We Can Be Heroes was recently presented at the exhibition “Brothers,” at Sydney’s Sullivan+Strumpf, in 2013.

In addition to being widely represented in national museums in Australia, Albert’s work has also been exhibited in art institutions worldwide, such as at the Singapore Art Museum and the Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux, France.

TONY ALBERT, We Can Be Heroes, 2013–14, pigment print on paper, 124 × 115 × 2 cm. Courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.