Aug 12 2020

Winners Revealed for Australia’s National Indigenous Arts Awards

by Pamela Wong

Artist NGARRALJA TOMMY MAY has won the 2020 Telstra Art Award. Image via Facebook.

Telstra Foundation announced the winners of the 2020 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) on August 7, conferring the Telstra Art Award to Ngarralja Tommy May, who wins a cash prize of AUD 50,000 (USD 35,630).

The Wangkatjungka and Walmajarri artist from Western Australia was recognized for his etching on metal and enamel paint, Wirrkanja (2020), depicting the sand dune land on which he lost his brother. The judges described the piece as a symbol of “the height of his creative powers,” which “announces itself with exquisite beauty and power in the signature style Mr May has pioneered in recent years.”

May was born in Yarrkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert, and currently resides in Mindi Rardi Community. Throughout his 30-year practice, he has utilized paintings and prints to narrate his land and dreams, often featuring figurative elements and objects of Aboriginal culture, such as the ritual objects in his installation Untitled (Two Styles of Headdress) (2008). Aside from his artistic practice, he has continuously contributed to his local community in Fitzroy Crossing, co-founding the Karrayili Adult Education Centre in 1981, as well as serving as deputy chairman for Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency Aboriginal Corporation, chairman of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre, and was also on the board of directors of the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists for 21 years.

Among the other Telstra awards for this year, the General Painting Award went to Adrian Jangala Robertson for his synthetic polymer paint-on-canvas landscape, Yalpirakinu (2020). The Bark Painting Award was presented to Marrnyula Munungurr for her earth pigments-on-stringybark, Muṉguymirri (2020), outlining the sacred design of the Djapu clan. The Works on Paper Award was awarded to Iluwanti Ken for her ink-on-paper Walawulu ngunytju kukaku ananyi (2020), illustrating mother eagles. Jenna Lee’s sculpture HIStory vessels (2020), comprised of pages and cover board of the Ladybird History Book in response to the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Australia, won her the Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award. The Telstra Multimedia Award was presented to Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs for her short film Shinkansen (2019). Meanwhile, Cecilia Umbagai won the Telstra Emerging Artist Award for a boldly colored bark painting, Yoogu (2020).

The 2020 judges included Donna Nadjamerrek, chairperson of the nonprofit Injalak Arts; Stephen Williamson, curator of Araluen Arts Centre; and Darwin-based visual artist Karen Mills. 

The finalist exhibition is currently on view at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) Darwin Gallery until January 31, 2021, with a virtual showcase also available. 

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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ACAW David Zwirner SAM Johyun Gallery